Saturday, 31 December 2005

looking on the bright side

I've been enjoying much time in books once more, firstly with Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. I'd like to share the following quotation: long but worth reading [from pp.134-135 of 1924 New York edn.]. I suppose it could be a thought for the New Year: In what will we find joy this year? With what will we encourage each other this year? On what will we meditate this year? In whose presence live?

"Religion cannot be made joyful simply by looking on the bright side of God. For a one-sided God is not a real God, and it is the real God alone who can satisfy the longing of our soul. God is love, but is he only love? God is love, but is love God? Seek joy alone, then, seek joy at any cost, and you will not find it. How then may it be attained?

"The search for joy in religion seems to have ended in disaster. God is found to be enveloped in impenetrable mystery, and in awful righteousness; man is confined in the prison of the world, trying to make the best of his condition, beautifying the prison with tinsel, yet secretly dissatisfied with his bondage, dissatisfied with a merely relative goodness which is no goodness at all, dissatisfied with the companionship of his sinful fellows, unable to forget his heavenly destiny and his heavenly duty, longing for communion with the Holy One. There seems to be no hope; God is separate from sinners; there is no room for joy, but only a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.

"Yet such a God has at least one advantage over the comforting God of modern preaching - He is alive, He is sovereign, He is not bound by His creation or by His creatures, He can perform wonders. Could He even save us if He would? He has saved us - in that message the gospel consists. It could not have been foretold; still less could the manner of it have been foretold. That Birth, that Life, that Death - why was it done just thus and then and there? It all seems so very local, so very particular, so very unphilosophical, so very unlike what might have been expected. Are not our own methods of salvation, men say, better than that? "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" Yet what if it were true? "So, the All-Great were the All-Loving too" - God's own Son delivered up for us all, freedom from the world, sought by philosophers of all the ages, offered now freely to every simple soul, things hidden from the wise and prudent revealed unto babes, the long striving over, the impossible accomplished, sin conquered by mysterious grace, communion at length with the holy God, our Father which art in heaven!

"Surely this and this alone is joy. But it is a joy that is akin to fear. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Were we not safer with a God of our own devising - love and only love, a Father and nothing else, one before whom we could stand in our own merit without fear? Let him who will be satisfied with such a God. But we, God help us - sinful as we are, we would see Jehovah. Despairing,
hoping trembling, half-doubting and half-believing, trusting all to Jesus, we venture into the presence of the very God. And in his presence we live."

To quote again from the beginning: "Religion cannot be made joyful simply by looking on the bright side of God. For a one-sided God is not a real God, and it is the real God alone who can satisfy the longing of our soul." If we would encourage one another then, and build each other up, we must do so not only by speaking to each other of God's love and his Fatherhood, or similarly encouraging themes. To help each other find joy we must witness to the fulness of the one true God, in whose presence is found the fulness of joy. So although it seems counter-productive to the non-Christian, to encourage each other we must remind each other of the sinfulness of sin, the holy wrath of God and all his glorious attributes. Joy is not found in the bright side of an imaginary god nor comfort in a god who is just nice and comforting. Go back and read the quotation again.

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Christmas translated.

Christmas, Christmas – everyone loves Christmas. We think of being together as a family, eating and drinking lots, giving and getting presents. We hope it’ll be a white Christmas! In the shops everyone’s humming along to the Christmas music while stressing about presents. Streets are decorated with lights… but why? A winter festival. Great. But in my supermarket I noticed they’re selling lots of nativity scenes – little models of Joseph, Mary, the baby, donkeys etc. Why? Well of course, because it’s Christmas – it’s a bit religious isn’t it? But why? Why 2000 years after a young girl gave birth to a son do we still remember it?

For many people who buy nativity scenes, I’m sure that it’s no more than, “It’s religious – it makes me feel good – and look how cute it is!” Cute? Imagine the scene. A teenage girl giving birth to a son in a field or hut without a bed, without sheets, without help. God’s messenger arrives to tell some nearby shepherds about it. What does he say? “Don’t be afraid, for I bring you good news which will be great joy for all the people: today there is born to you a little baby, and he’s so cute over there in his wee manger!”

Of course not! Listen to what the angel really said to the shepherds:

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

So he’s more than a cute little baby – and more than a man who will give nice teaching when he grows up. So what is he? How come a cute baby in a manger is something to celebrate? How is this news so good? How is it something of great joy? We all seek joy, and this messenger from God claims to announce someone who would give it to us – so what is this Christmas message?

The angel announced a Saviour, the Christ and the Lord. What does that mean?

Jesus came to be the Saviour. Saviour of what? Of us - our Saviour. We all recognise that there is something not right with this world. War, terrorism, violence, racism, family problems, corruption, lying, pursuit of money, success and happiness without ever attaining it. God says that the roots of the problem are deeper: they’re found in each one of us. Wars? Do you love everyone, everyone else, just as much as you love and take care of yourself? Corruption? Have you never cheated? Racism? Have you never had a prejudiced thought about someone of a different cultural background? Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” And God our creator is far from happy about all that – it’s to rebel against him! We try to say that it’s everyone’s fault but our own – but we don’t pull the wool over God’s eyes: he knows us. And despite that, and for that, he has provided us with a Saviour. Someone to save us from his anger against our rebellion. We know well that the little baby, come as Saviour, grew up and went to die – and he said that he was dying to be the Saviour: to take our place. That’s the Saviour. That’s why the angel announced, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news”! A Saviour who died in your place means that you can be forgiven if you trust in him. A Saviour who died in your place means that for those who trust in him, the punishment is already done: you can be reconciled with God. Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news!

Jesus came as the Saviour; Jesus came as the Christ.
It isn’t his surname: it’s a title. It means that he is the one God had promised for a long time. The one who would fulfil all God’s promises to give a Saviour to resolve the problem of our heart faced with the perfection of God – faced with his anger against our rebellion. He has come! Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news!

Jesus came as the Lord.
This Saviour isn’t one option among many. He is not just a prophet. He is not “Lord for those who respect him”. He is Lord, the angel said. He is the Lord. The master. The boss. Of everyone. Of all creation. Albert II is the king even if there are anarchists. He is the king of the anarchists even if they don’t want to accept it. Jesus is the Lord of us, rebels, even if we don’t want to accept him. He will come again and on that day everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord whether or not they have confessed it beforehand.

That is why the announcement of Jesus the first time, as Saviour, was such good news! Because he offers us reconciliation with him before he comes again to be recognised by all as Lord. Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news.

There has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. There has been born to you this Saviour, who is the Christ, the Lord. Really, what good news! What a reason to celebrate! But not in fact if you don’t accept him as Saviour. If you don’t trust in him as Saviour, if you don’t turn from your self-centred life to follow him as the Lord he is, you aren’t reconciled with him. In that case, there’s nothing to celebrate. Don’t do it. Trust in him.

Listen to the reaction of the shepherds to the announcement of the angel. When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” It’s well worth making the effort to see Jesus, who has come just as God has made known to us. It’s all written in the Bible in the testimonies about Jesus, which I invite you to read. I also invite you to come to the GBU group, as we’re in the middle of studying Luke’s account together: you’d be very welcome. But consider Jesus. To miss a baby in a manger isn’t serious. To miss celebrating Christmas isn’t the end of the world: it won’t change your life. But to miss the Saviour whom God has provided for us? Don’t do it. Consider carefully the Saviour whom God has given us. Consider Jesus.

“…for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

[All Bible quotes from NASB, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation]

Translation notes:
- Albert II is the present King of Belgium.
- I've not followed a particularly consistent theory of translation here: sometimes dynamic, as in saying "far from happy" and "pull the wool over God's eyes"; mostly more literal but probably to the extent of being clumsy English at times.
- Translation really is a tricky business - I mean, in not using the French translation of the Bible passages I lost a link here: '"...and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." It’s well worth making the effort to see Jesus, who has come just as God has made known to us.' In French an entirely literal translation reads, '" see this thing which has arrived, which the Lord has made known to us." It's well worth making the effort to see Jesus who has arrived as God has made known to us.' You can see it links and flows better in French than in English.
- French is generally good also for directing exhortation at individuals - each direction or instruction (eg. "think about Jesus") must be accompanied by a person (eg "let us think about Jesus" / "you plural think about Jesus!" / "you singular think about Jesus!").
- On the other hand, when I was writing the talk I really struggled to find a good French way of saying, Consider Jesus! In the end the best I could get was a combination of the approximate equivalents of "Pay attention to" (which I've dynamically translated above as 'consider carefully') and "Reflect on" ('consider', above).
- The structure found often in the NT "the X of Y" is the only way of saying "the [object] of [subject]" in French - eg "...the Saviour of us". This is clumsy in English yet the accurate, "he's our Saviour" can also imply that we own him rather than that we are the object of his salvation. I therefore translated this firstly "as the Saviour of us" and then added "- our Saviour", but am not happy with this. I appreciate that this is being argued between Gordon Fee & co and the ESV translation camp. The righteousness of God (non-English), or God's righteousness (less clear)? The Saviour of the world, or the world's Saviour? Ha - just put it in French and you've no such problems.

Noël, Noël...

[Yes, this post is indeed in French. I hope to translate it soon, but thought to post it like this for those who can read French as it's better that way. This was given this evening at Mons GBU Christmas evening.]

Noël, Noël; tout le monde aime Noël. On pense à être ensemble en famille, à manger et boire beaucoup, à donner et recevoir des cadeaux, on espère qu'il y aura de la neige, il y a l'ambiance stressée et la musique de Noël dans les magasins, des rues sont décorées de lumières... mais pourquoi ? Une fête d'hiver. Super. Mais dans mon supermarché, GB, on vend beaucoup de crèches de Noël - des petits modèles de Joseph, Marie, le bébé, des ânes etc. etc. Pourquoi ? Bien sûr parce que c'est Noël - c'est un peu religieux n'est-ce pas ! Mais pourquoi ?! Pourquoi, 2000 ans après qu'une jeune fille accouche d'un fils est-ce qu'on s'en souvient encore ?

Pour tant de gens qui achètent des crèches de Noël, je suis sûre que ce n'est rien plus que « c'est religieux - ça me fait sentir bien - et comme c'est mignon ! " Mignon ? Imaginez-vous la scène. Une jeune fille en train de donner naissance à son fils dans un champ ou cabane sans lit, sans draps, sans aide. Et le messager de Dieu arrive, pour l'annoncer aux bergers dans les champs environnants. Qu'est-ce qu'il dit ? « Ne craignez point ; car je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle, qui sera pour tout le peuple le sujet d'une grande joie : c'est qu'aujourd'hui il vous est né un petit bébé, et il est si mignon dans sa petite mangeoire ! »

Mais bien sûr que non ! Écoutez ce que l'ange a vraiment dit aux bergers :
Ne craignez point ; car je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle, qui sera pour tout le peuple le sujet d'une grande joie ! C'est qu'aujourd'hui, dans la ville de David, il vous est né un Sauveur, qui est le Christ, le Seigneur.

Il est plus qu'un petit bébé mignon alors - et plus qu'un homme qui donnera des enseignements agréables quand il grandira ! Qu'est-ce qu'il est alors ? En quoi est-ce qu'un bébé mignon dans une mangeoire est quelque chose à fêter ? En quoi est-ce que cette nouvelle est si bonne ? En quoi est-il un sujet d'une grande joie ? Nous cherchons tous la joie, et ce messager de Dieu prétend d'annoncer quelqu'un qui nous la donnera - alors c'est quoi le message de Noël ? L'ange annonçait un Sauveur, le Christ et le Seigneur. Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire ?

Jésus est venu pour être Sauveur.
Sauveur de quoi alors ? Sauveur de nous. Nous reconnaissons tous qu'il y a quelque chose qui ne va pas bien dans ce monde. Les guerres, le terrorisme, la violence, le racisme, des problèmes familiaux, la corruption, le mensonge, la poursuite de l'argent, du succès, du bonheur sans jamais l'acquérir. Dieu dit que les racines du problème sont plus profondes : elles se trouvent en chacun de nous. Les guerres ? Est-ce que tu aimes tout le monde, tout les autres, autant que tu aimes et prends soin de toi-même ? La corruption ? Est-ce que tu n'as jamais triché ? Le racisme ? Est-ce que tu n'as jamais eu une pensée de nature préjugée contre une personne d'une culture différente ? Jésus a dit : Car c'est du dedans, c'est du coeur de l'homme que proviennent les pensées mauvaises qui mènent à l'immoralité, au vol, au meurtre, à l'adultère, l'envie, la méchanceté, la tromperie, le vice, la jalousie, le blasphème, l'orgueil, et à toutes sortes de comportements insensés. Tout ce mal sort du dedans et rend l'homme impur. Et Dieu notre créateur n'est pas du tout content de tout ça - c'est se rebeller contre lui ! Nous essayons de dire que c'est la faute de tout le monde sauf nous - mais on ne trompe pas Dieu : il nous connaît. Et malgré et pour cela il nous fournit un Sauveur. Quelqu'un pour nous sauver de sa colère contre notre rébellion. On sait bien que le petit bébé, venu comme Sauveur, est grandit et est allé mourir - et il a dit que c'était pour être sauveur qu'il est mort : pour prendre notre place. Voilà le Sauveur. Voilà pourquoi l'ange annonce : Ne craignez point : je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle ! Un Sauveur qui est mort à ta place veut dire que tu peux être pardonné si tu te confies en lui. Un Sauveur qui est mort à ta place veut dire que pour ceux qui se confient en lui, la punition est déjà finie : tu peux être réconcilié avec Dieu. Ne craignez point : je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle !

Jésus est venu comme le Christ.
Ce n'est pas son nom de famille : c'est un titre. Ça veut dire qu'il est celui que Dieu a promis depuis longtemps. Celui qui accomplira toutes les promesses de Dieu de donner un Sauveur pour résoudre le problème de notre coeur face à la perfection de Dieu - face à sa colère contre notre rébellion. Il est venu ! Ne craignez point : je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle.

Jésus est venu comme le Seigneur.
Ce Sauveur n'est pas une option parmi plusieurs. Il n'est pas qu'un prophète. Il n'est pas « Seigneur pour ceux qui le respectent ». Il est Seigneur, a dit l'ange. Il est le Seigneur. Le maître. Le boss. De tous. De toute création. Albert II est le roi même s'il y a des anarchistes. Il est roi des anarchistes même s'ils ne veulent pas l'accepter. Jésus est Seigneur de nous, des rebelles, même si nous ne voulons pas l'accepter. Il viendra encore et a ce jour là tous confesseront que Jésus est Seigneur s'ils le confessaient auparavant ou pas.

C'est pourquoi l'annonce de Jésus la première fois, comme Sauveur, était tellement une bonne nouvelle ! Parce qu'il nous offre la réconciliation avec lui avant qu'il ne vienne encore, reconnu par tous comme Seigneur. Ne craignez point : car je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle !

Il vous est né un Sauveur, qui est le Christ, le Seigneur. Il vous est né ce Sauveur, qui est le Christ, le Seigneur. Quelle bonne nouvelle vraiment ! Quelle raison pour fêter ! Mais non, en fait, si tu ne l'acceptes pas comme Sauveur. Si tu ne te confies pas en lui comme Sauveur, si tu ne détournes pas de ta vie égoïste pour lui suivre comme le Seigneur qu'il est ; tu n'es pas réconcilié avec lui. En ce cas-là, il n'y a rien à fêter. Ne le fais pas. Confies-toi en lui.

Voilà la réaction des bergers à l'annonce de l'ange : Quand les anges les eurent quittés pour retourner au ciel, les bergers se dirent l'un à l'autre: Allons donc jusqu'à Bethléhem pour voir ce qui est arrivé, ce que le Seigneur nous a fait connaître.
Ça vaut la peine de faire l'effort de voir Jésus, qui est arrivé, comme Dieu nous a fait connaître. C'est écrit ici dans les témoignages de la vie de Jésus, que je vous invite à lire. Je vous invite à venir au groupe GBU, comme nous sommes en train d'étudier ensemble le récit de Luc : vous seriez les bien-venus. Mais réfléchissez-vous au sujet de Jésus. Manquer un bébé dans une mangeoire n'est pas grand chose. Manquer de fêter Noël, ce n'est pas la fin du monde : ça ne change pas la vie. Mais manquer le Sauveur que Dieu nous a fournit ? Ne le fais pas. Prêtes attention au Sauveur que Dieu nous a donné. Réfléchis à Jésus.

« ... car je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle, qui sera pour tout le peuple le sujet d'une grande joie ! C'est qu'aujourd'hui, dans la ville de David, il vous est né un Sauveur, qui est le Christ, le Seigneur. »

Sunday, 18 December 2005

how to speak Belgian French

1) Enunciate. The French don't do this, but it's useful for communication and thankfully Belgians do.

2) Adopt a Flemish pronunciation of some words - main example: Bruxelles is pronounced 'Brusselles' by Belgians, mixing the Flemish start Bruss- with the French ending -elles.

3) Some things to note especially:
- 70 = septante, 90 = nonante; but unlike with the Swiss, 80 = quatre-vingts.
- Déjeuner = breakfast, Dîner = lunch, Souper = dinner.
- Don't say 'cool' or 'super cool'. These are French and laughable anyway. Instead, say 'chouette'. This means 'owl' literally, but is liberally used to mean 'great/cool/sweet/lush/etc'.
- And the one which throws the French and taunts non-Belgian French teachers: Use savoir instead of pouvoir.
- Also use 'tantôt' instead of 'bientôt'.

4) Of course there are words fairly randomly different to standard French but people may still understand the standard French, eg GSM for portable, logopède for orthophoniste. Frequently Belgian French words are derived from Flemish eg kot = chambre d'étudiant, koter = habiter un kot, cokoter = partager un kot, etc; or are unadulterated Flemish eg krotje = petit ami.

5) Shorten words: "directement" becomes "direct", université becomes unif.

6) Use English words. But not everywhere, otherwise that'd be English, not Belgian French.
- Used where there is no direct French equivalent, eg "Pourrais-tu me donner un LIFT jusqu'au parc?" but NOT "Pourrais-tu me donner du BREAD?"
- Used where there is a French equivalent but it's not cool enough - eg don't say 'spectacle', say 'show'.
- Frequently a world-wide English word is used: in the sermon this morning, the preacher said, 'occupé de son BUSINESS'; also in football: 'half' and 'keeper' instead of 'demi' and 'guardien de but'.
- Also used for no apparent reason: 'flat' instead of 'studio (apartment)', 'pension' instead of 'retraite', 'ring' instead of 'boulevard périphérique', 'tarmac' instead of 'macadam', boiler for chauffe-eau, student for étudiant...
- Often used in Brussels (whole sentences written eg in posters) to communicate 1) the propositional content and 2) a sense of despair at being in a bilingual community.
- Thrown into a sentence for 'cool-ness'. NB As an English speaker, it is not cool for you to do this: it is ignorant.

7) Copy Vicky of Little Britain fame: respond with 'oui mais non'.

All in all, Belgian French is easier for English speakers to understand than standard French is. It is also often hilarious for an English-speaker to listen to, especially amongst students (see point 6, last part).

Saturday, 17 December 2005

celebrating Christmas

[A 10 min talk - in English - given at a Christmas evening for English-speaking international students.]

Why do Christians celebrate Christmas?

For most people in the West, Christmas is a winter festival. It’s an excuse to have a nice family time, with presents and special food. People chop down fir trees, take them inside and hang decorations on them: weird. People tell their children that there’s a fat man dragged round the sky by reindeer who goes down chimneys to give them presents: very weird.

But for Christians, Christmas is the day we choose to especially remember how Jesus came into the world, born as a baby, and we celebrate this. The 25th December isn’t a special day – the date isn’t important. But what we celebrate on that day is very special and important. And it has nothing to do with trees indoors, a generous fat man in a red suit, or the food we eat. It’s all about Jesus.

I’ll read to you some of what the Bible says about what we celebrate. I'll read from what Matthew wrote; he knew Jesus, and wrote an account of his life.

[Matt.1:18-25, NLT]
Now this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.

As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All of this happened to fulfil the Lord's message through his prophet:

"Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and he will be called Immanuel
(meaning, God is with us)."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
That is what Christians celebrate at Christmas.

Matthew introduces the history by saying, "This is how Jesus the Messiah was born." He calls him the ‘Messiah’ – that’s not part of his name, but his role, his job description. Long before Jesus was born, God had promised that he would send the ‘Messiah’ – someone to save his people. In Matthew’s introduction, he claims that Jesus is that person. And that’s not just Matthew’s point of view. When he tells us how Jesus was born, he describes how God’s messenger, the angel, tells Joseph: "she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus [that means 'God saves'], for he will save his people from their sins." The angel says that Jesus is that person who will save people from their sins.

Why do people need to be saved from their sins? What does that mean?
Well our sin is everything we do, or say, or even our attitudes, which aren’t what God likes – which aren’t good. It is that we do what we want, to please ourselves, not what God wants, to please him. In that way we rebel against him, and he is angry. God would punish us for our sins. He is holy – he is perfect and must punish sin. We think like this a bit. We see in the news that in many countries people are starving to death because other people are corrupt, and are keeping money for themselves: so we are angry at that and we want to see the corruption punished! If you work long hours in a job to get money so you can keep studying and then your boss refuses to pay you, it’s wrong and you are angry! Even though you are not perfect yourself, when you see something wrong it makes you angry and you want it to be punished. God is so much greater: he IS perfect, so when he sees how we do wrong: how we please ourselves and don’t do what is good; he is angry and must punish sin. That is why we need to be saved from our sins. And that is why we celebrate that God sent Jesus to save his people from their sins!

So what was so special about Jesus that he could be the one to save us from our sins? He was a man, born as a baby 2000 years ago, Matthew tells us! But Matthew’s history of Jesus’ birth also tells us how he was more than an ordinary man. He was also God, come among his people. So he could save his people from their sins. What things help us to see that, in how he was born? Well Matthew records how the angel tells Joseph that Jesus was conceived by a miracle – his mother was a virgin. And Matthew helps us to understand that this is true by reminding us that God had promised that hundreds of years earlier: Matthew quotes,
"Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and he will be called Immanuel
(meaning, God is with us)."
This promise tells us that Jesus was more than a man. He was more than a special man. He was at the same time, a man, born as a baby, and God. Jesus was God, come to be with us, come to save his people from their sins.

To know more about what Jesus did to save people from their sins, do ask questions – of me and the team members here. Because Christmas isn’t the end of the story.

So I encourage you, when you find out about Christmas, about Christian traditions and so on – concentrate on finding out about Jesus! It’s all about him. Traditions are fun and interesting, but Jesus was God, come to save his people from their sins. That’s what Christians celebrate at Christmas.

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

The cross judges sin

A challenging post by Rob Wilkerson (of Miscellanies on the Gospel): entitled Media and the gospel, it's really about sin and the cross. Read it: no comment needed.

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

parallel convergence

Today I found out that Spurgeon was a mathematical genius. Pyromaniac provided a helping of Spurgeon as usual, from which I will quote:

That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.
I suppose that only my fellow mathematically minded Christians will thrill with me on reading his last paragraph, at the exact fitness of his analogy. You see, the favourite definition of parallel lines is this: two lines are parallel if and only if they meet at infinity.

The trouble with the mathematician is he then gets sidetracked in the analogy debating various ideas of real &/ imaginary infinities. Ok, so take off your mathematical hat before you do then. We'll have eternity for that ;-) "They do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring."

Monday, 12 December 2005


A recommendation:

I've been enjoying the ezine Reformation21 so much - several months out so far. If you aren't reading Reformation 21, then do. It's a great magazine (sorry, ezine).

And then there's the blog. Mixes devastating (though always gracious) theological-cultural critique, Bible teaching, personal musings of the contributors (when they're godly men like these it's worth reading personal musings) and all with good-humoured digs at each other. Carl Trueman's neat critiques drive home with such a sense of humour that it's lightened many a day. His latest post had me in stitches. Then I realised that while he had me helplessly laughing he'd sneakily driven his point in under my defenses :o

testing, testing

Ant started it off. Well ok, not the whole thing - the Americans probably did that. Oh no, the Greeks actually, with their four temperaments. Personality testing though. I've some reservations:

:-? personality tests which are specific enough to be worth doing don't tell you much that you don't know already, so aren't worth doing (eg they tell you that you're the kind of person who prefers to read a book rather than go to a party - well I figured that out since age 4!). But of course they're still interesting because we're all interested in ourselves and interested in understanding others, so on to my real concerns...

:-? results are frequently used to explain actions and it is therefore a temptation to use them to excuse actions: "I'm sorry BUT it was my ... side coming through" as if personality is a provision for sin. (e.g. "Well I'm sorry it hurt you but that's who I am: I say things straight." Rather than, "I'm sorry I hurt you;that was wrong of me. I'll try to understand more next time to help me explain what I think without hurting you.") The other side of this coin is the temptation to use them to dismiss others' thoughts or actions: "You're only saying that because you're a ... personality!"

:-? results lend to the idea that personality does not change. They don't acknowledge that some tendencies in each personality are good and some are sinful. They don't acknowledge the role of character, which can be sanctified by the Holy Spirit as he gives grace to continue to bring about the obedience of faith - this surely interplays with personality. In other words, having found out my personality type, there is a temptation to not seek to be transformed by the renewing of my mind and offer my whole self as a living sacrifice, but only offer myself as a sacrifice within the bounds which I imagine myself to be capable of personality-wise. For example, an introvert such as myself thinks, "There's such&such a project on which would be great to go to, to encourage/invite/etc, but it's not for me - I'd hate it all evening; God doesn't require me to go against how he's made me: I'll not go." Or, "I'm the thinking/judging type - I'm not like this wishy-washy feelings-oriented crowd. I tell it straight, that's the way God's made me" rather than seeking to consider what people feel about what I'm saying at the same time, in order to truly communicate in love.

:-? Personality types only acknowledge what is natural for us, not what we're working on. They're also quite extreme. So do you either act with someone on the basis of truth and facts without regard for their feelings or do you disregard truth and act on the basis of how it will make them feel? Well as Christians do we not try to 'speak the truth in love'?? We try to do both! But this test would ask,"But what is most NATURAL to you? - go with that!" That is actually what a careers person said to me when I posed that problem in response to this issue. That's rubbish. As Christians we don't go with the extreme that comes most naturally to us. We seek to be more like Jesus, seek the Holy Spirit to transform our sinful tendencies and build us up in where we are weak.

For those reasons, I really don't think that personality tests are that useful. They might be personally helpful for example in helping an individual think through what kind of job he might like... perhaps. Certainly they're not easily avoidable as employers everywhere are into the trend. But for Christian discipleship? No thanks. Maybe what we need is more genuine communication. None of us wants the others to categorise them into little personality boxes. But we don't need this; we do need to speak to each other honestly and take time about it, not so that we can dismiss or excuse, but so that we can speak the truth in love to build each other up.

But perhaps I'm just posting that because I'm an INTJ.

Friday, 9 December 2005

The Lion et al

Given all the debate currently about the forthcoming film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (should you, shouldn't you; will they, won't they; and was Lewis a heretic or a genius...) I've succumbed to blog too: it's now out (but not in Belgium until 21st, grr) and Al Mohler's written what seems like a helpfully constructive review here which says all I'd say better than I could say it and he's actually seen the thing so is informed.

Monday, 5 December 2005

Being radical

We live in resurrection life, we're in the Kingdom of God, citizens of heaven (1 Pet 1:3, Col 1:13-14, Phil 3:19-21) . Living in the light of being called into his Kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:11-12), it being blatantly obvious to everyone that we've turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess 1:8-10)

This is so radical! It seems to be a lifestyle completely upside-down, obsessed with hope of future salvation in Christ. It fills my head with images of spending all my time doing things which will show that I have this obsession, and particularly, spending all my time calling others to it. It seems to contrast with and laugh at me sitting in my room studying, or making dinner, or catching buses and trains to meet half a dozen students to study the Bible then return home. It seems incredulous at my love of reading and my watching a film or going to a concert. It seems to call with Baxter, "What is a candle but to burn?" It seems to feel at odds with e.g. 1 Timothy's steady 'put the church in order for the long haul' kind of stuff - with its 'receive and enjoy good things with thanksgiving'. It holds up the example of Roger Carswell (or *insert the non-stop evangelist you know best here*), not me, or the banker, academic, full-time parent, cleaner, etc .

And it can be easily imagined that if only we in the Western church had some persecution, we would get this vision, everything could be black and white and we would have a Thessalonian witness.

Yet the NT was written to persecuted churches and what do we find? Disputes over leadership style and personality, cross-cultural disunity, arguments over doctrine, heresy, love grown cold, early gnosticism, etc. Persecution does not make a testimony radical. The truth is, that a radical testimony is "work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 1.) The faith, love and hope are all in Jesus. The faith, love and hope get on with working steadily. The priorities are transformed outward - the work is faithful, the love labours for others and the hope for the future keeps going in the now. It doesn't make us all into non-stop evangelists, but it does infect everything.

If we don't have this radical testimony now, we can't imagine that persecution would make it clearer.

So my obsession with this is not necessarily to show by completely changing the things I do - Paul rebukes the Thessalonians for quitting work: "we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living." But everything I do spend time doing is to be transformed so that it reflects the resurrection life and Christ's kingship.

I guess that often that won't be striking. But it is radical - right down the very root of it all. And that, I find a challenge.

Friday, 2 December 2005


I don't have much patience with songs that don't say a lot and do it at length - I get bored, which says more about me than the songs perhaps. But I've been pondering a line from a simple (but non-endless) song: "You are my strength when I am weak" (from "You Are my All in All" by Dennis Jernigan). This could be intended in a temporary sense, but as I've been praying about my weakness this line has struck me as an immense truth!

We are weak because we are children of Adam - everything is relative to the Most High God, creator and sustainer of all things: we are weak. We only live, move and exist because every moment the Lord Jesus Christ is holding all things together by his word of power. We are dust - we are only more than dust at this moment because God has willed it and spoken it at this moment.

Isaiah 40.28-29
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

And vv7-8
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
So we look forward with sure and certain hope to a body sown in weakness, but raised in power (1 Cor 15:43b).

We are weak because we are sinful and affected by the curse on sin and its effects. Our bodies, emotions and thoughts are weak: they do not function as they were designed but are weak in every part. Furthermore our bodies, emotions and thoughts are sinful in every part: more than weak, we are crippled.

As with the Israelites
Ps 78:35-39
They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
We are weak because we are in Christ. What, are we not living by the power of God in him (2 Cor 13:4)? Is there not 'power in the blood'? Yes, but as we see it here, God's plan is power through suffering and death, as in Christ. The resurrection is the culmination of the death! We are weak that God's strength might be shown to his glory, as in the cross. It is a descent into weakness that God's glory would be seen in his strength in us, until we are dead and his power resurrects us, as the culmination of the resurrection already begun in Christ. Even our prayer for strength through God's Spirit (Phil 3.14ff) is so that God may be glorified in the church and in Christ Jesus: we are weak in every way so that in every way it is obvious that any strength is God's, to his glory.

1 Corinthians 1:27-31
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
We may expect to be kept weak in service for the sake of God's glory.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Will he not answer the prayer of Philippians 3.14-21, for strength through his Spirit? Yes he will, far more abundantly than we ask or think, to his glory. And as he does so, we will 'have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.' So as he strengthens us by his power, we will grasp increasingly how much greater he is (so 'who is man that you are mindful of him?'), how sinful we are and how weak we are as we are called to join in his ministry and so rely even more on his power at work within us, bringing glory to him.

"You are my strength when I am weak,
You are the treasure that I seek;
You are my all in all."

What grace!

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

childlike faith

Last night Emily (one half of the IFES Team leaders) was having pre-bed prayer time with Luke (age 3). Since they'd started their advent calendar and had been discussing it, Emily prompted, "We can thank Jesus for coming and being born..." to which Luke added, "and we can thank Jesus for dying on the cross [wow: get the cross-centredness of this 3 year old!] so that we could go to... Belgium."

Emily explained that Jesus died so that we can go to heaven actually. Whereupon Luke prayed, thanking God that Jesus was born and that he died that we can go to heaven. And then added a request that God would make Belgium nicer - that people would pick up their rubbish and put it in the blue (rubbish) bags.

Was this what Jesus meant when he said that we needed faith as that of a child? He's practically grasped partially inaugurated eschatology, our future hope and our present reality!

Luke asked the other day: "How could God be born?" Any Relay Workers feel a double-line-spaced 700 word essay coming on? You have til the 5th of next month. And please write in language a 3 year old will understand.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

A francophone fridge?

Either I need a lesson in physics, or there's something seriously wrong with my fridge. A third alternative could be that God's trying to teach me something profound through the medium of my fridge (feel free to comment interpretations accordingly), but when he's spoken supremely in his Son, I think 'listening' to a fridge might count as drifting, to the writer to the Hebrews.

Firstly the freezer compartment didn't freeze. So I turned down the temperature.
Then, after a few weeks, the freezer compartment starting slowly freezing up until I couldn't open the door. Fine!
Then, after a good few weeks of this, all of a sudden it started melting. That was also fine with me, only inconvenience being water all over the food in the fridge.
Then I came back from a weekend away to find the top part of the *fridge* acting as a freezer... ie all the food was frozen solid.
Then just now, it stopped working altogether. Fuse? Check. Other appliances? Check.
Then 5 min later, it came back on! Hallelujah brothers, I have a resurrected fridge!

No go on - I'm not going to offer a deep significance. It's just there as one of those Strange Things in Life. One of my friends attributes it to the francophone nature of the fridge: she knew one in Grenoble which heated food. But as the fridge hasn't spoken to me I cannot yet accuse it of being francophone.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

universal destruction

The trivialisation of the horrible and the holy destroys the universe.

I have been contemplating this quote for a while. It struck me when listening to a recorded sermon no doubt, quite a while ago, and unfortunately I can't remember whose it was* or on what passage - shameful. Still, I can't help but think that he is right. Which is quite a challenge to me, especially regarding my humour.

* I suspect Ravi Zacharias.

keeping quiet

I've been quiet for a while, because I haven't had much to say (which is always a good reason to be quiet).

God's been challenging me that although I want to change the world - or at least, I'd settle for having the Belgian church transformed, revived and permeating society with the gospel of our Lord - he's got a lot to change in me. (Luke 6:37-42). Funny how I can easily see and analyse the state of a movement, or church, or group, and be passionate about their transformation according to the gospel, yet frequently fail to see my own state and be passionate about my transformation according to the gospel.

Also, no matter what I'm learning and how much I'm interested in theology and all, I'm unlikely to be changing the Belgian church any time soon; but I am to get on with being faithful in what he's called me to do. I haven't a clue what I'm going to use it all for in any role that I might have, but I do know that I'm to use it now in what he has given me to do now.

Hardly profound or innovative, but what's being going on when I haven't been posting.

enslaving thought to Christ

J. Gresham Machen, 1881-1937. My Dad almost got called Machen, since my Grandfather had studied under him and held him in high regard (thankfully, my Granny stepped in so that my Dad avoided the name, and probable bullying at school). I knew that he had fought liberalism tooth and nail and done much to prevent its advance. I own one book of his but to my shame have not yet read it. I am now determined to read all I can find of his, having come across this lecture online: Christianity and Culture. I quoted extensively from it in a seminar I gave the other day on the philosophy of the Belgian 'Free' universities:

We are all agreed that at least one great function of the Church is the conversion of individual men. The missionary movement is the great religious movement of our day. Now it is perfectly true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no labour-saving devices in evangelism. It is all hand-work.

And yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel.

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.

...What is to-day matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassioned debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.

And that is a bit out of context - not so as to destroy its sense, but do read the whole lecture! While noting that, speaking at the start of the last century, Machen speaks of modern culture, I think what he says is just as true of the church and the thin veneer of 'post-modern' over modern culture.

Or as Paul said,
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ...
(2 Cor. 10:4-5, ESV).

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Maths: beauty, truth and freedom

I was researching the philosophy of 'libre examen' (free enquiry?) which is fallacious but pervasive in the 'free' universities here, and in society to an extent influenced by them. I discovered that the description of 'libre examen' is summarised in a quote from Henri Poincaré, the 19th (&20th) century mathematician. This I found sad, because the man was a genius, and as far as I can see shares my view of maths to an extent:
What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.
I've often compared maths to music - seeing the theory come together to produce harmony, symmetry, order, unity, that we can at once hear the ensemble and the parts - to which some are 'tone deaf' (though in different proportions to those who appreciate this in music and those who are tone deaf to it).
A scientist worthy of his name, above all a mathematician, experiences in his work the same impression as an artist; his pleasure is as great and of the same nature.
And on the usefulness of maths:
The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living. Of course I do not here speak of that beauty that strikes the senses, the beauty of qualities and appearances; not that I undervalue such beauty, far from it, but it has nothing to do with science; I mean that more profound beauty which comes from the harmonious order of the parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
Now take that thought and instead of ending with the knowledge of the beauty of nature, which is pointless by itself, look along that to see the glory of God. And think of that when you're slogging away on trying to get your epsilons and deltas to befriend each other this side of infinity, and you find joy in appreciating God's glory using the maths he has given us. :D

These views, if I interpret them correctly, are what I have long thought of maths. Even Warwick didn't kill that. Here is the quote that has been used (a little unjustly I think) to embody the anti-religious philosophy which is propagated in some of the universities here:
La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni un dogme, ni un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un intérêt, ni à une idée préconçue, ni à quoi que ce soit, si ce n'est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que, pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d'être.
A clumsy translation (no time for better!): "Thought must never submit itself: not to dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to a (vested) interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to whatever it may be, if it is not to facts themselves, because for thought to submit itself, would be to cease to be."

This is in spirit a rally-cry of modernism, for objective science. But all our science is 'ours', so submits to our individual or collective commitments and preconceptions. It may sometimes suceed in challenging them, but it will never escape them. The only chance we have at 'thought' not submitted to our preconceived ideas is if someone outside of the universe of those preconceived ideas were to directly reveal something.

How would this revelation not be forced into our preconceived ideas and systems as soon as revealed to us? Only by it transforming us internally as well as revealing externally.

"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." [John 8.31-32]

Sunday, 13 November 2005

Content to survive

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" - Heb 2.1-3a]

How shall we escape? There is no way of escape if we neglect this salvation, because the salvation is the escape. Millions around the world have never heard of this great salvation; millions in this country think that they have heard and rejected it when all they have heard is a false pretender to it; we Christians think we are in the great salvation, and content to survive, do we drift away from it?

Piper pointed out (here) that so many alternative but suicidal competitors of salvation offer themselves, and we turn to them.

I consider one which so easily troubles the GBU. Going out with someone - which particularly effects drift when that person is a non-Christian. HOW can a Christian, beloved and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be one of his people, no longer rebellious but washed, sanctified, to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, to become like him that God's praises might be declared by all for his wisdom in glorifying himself in the church and in his beloved Son - HOW can a Christian devote him/herself to someone who is outside of Christ, a stranger to his love, rebelling still against him, unclean in his sight, knowing not Christ nor his resurrection nor his fellowship, not like him but distorting his image, not praising God but seeing only foolishness in his church, not loving the precious Son of God?

Ah, is not my theology of man, of creation low? Fallen man still in God's preserving and restraining grace retains something of his image - he is still lovable, with the love that God gives which loves even the rebel. And is not human love a good thing? And didn't God create sexuality? And who are we to judge? It is God who sees the heart of our friend. True. So we love other fallen human beings and leave God to judge the heart.

But we are not our own; we've been brought with the price of the blood of the Son of Man and Son of God. We died and are risen in Christ - the life I now live I live to the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me! How then can that life be bound up together with, be devoted to, be inseparably covenantedly shared with one who is still dead and living not to the Son of God but to himself? How can we think of that with one who will not covenant to spur us on and encourage us to pursue Christ with every fibre of our being?

  • Do you think so highly of yourself and your commitment to pursue Christ that you imagine you do not need the other member of this two-into-one covenantal life-long partnership which you are considering to be one who will spur you on constantly to not neglect such a great salvation?

  • Or do you think so low of Christ that to make every provision to love him with every fibre of your being is not your sights compared with your vision to love a man?

    What is the situation? A Christian girl goes out with a non-Christian guy. She's not treating it lightly: this is a long-term relationship - presumably with marriage in mind. She knows it's not ideal: she's aware that she could be 'dragged down'. But there aren't many Christian guys around - for example, the national GBU has around 50 members.

    And that is it: the suicidal competitor of salvation. She is so scared of not being married that she forgets the marriage supper of the lamb. She so believes the lie of significance and security found in a boyfriend, that she forgets that significance and security are found in Christ alone. She so believes the 'Christian' lie of the idol of family that she forgets that in Christ God has adopted her into a family - his own. She so pursues this competitor to salvation that relative to that, she forgets to pursue Christ.

    So this is a SUICIDAL competitor of salvation. There is no other way if we neglect such a great salvation. She is content to survive (as she imagines). But she forgets to pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest she DRIFT away from it.

    "Come back from the suicidal competitors of salvation!" Piper cries in his sermon on this text. How I would cry this to the girls in GBU. Love Christ more. He is worthy. He is everything. What good is it to gain a loving, caring, devoted husband and happy family life and lose the Lord Jesus Christ? What good is it? There is NO survival outside of Christ.

    "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declaredby angels proved to be reliable and every transgressionor disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"

    The spirit of 'content to survive' ('persuing survival' if you will) pervades Christians, student groups and churches. Yet those content to survive will not survive. We need contentment in God, not in survival - contentment in pursuing enjoyment of him to his glory with every fibre of our being, and calling others to do it with every breath and every ounce of love.

    Lord give me grace to do so, and to call others to do so. Because Jesus is everything.
  • Encouraged by the good; longing for the best.

    At our GBU national camp, praise God, those prayer requests I posted below were fulfilled. Students were challenged about acting as salt in society, and felt challenged about speaking of God's truth in love with their friends in the first place, as well as taking responsibility to be active in society at large, rather than withdrawing into churches recluse-like. It got them thinking about being a Christian in various kinds of work and work environments. They were encouraged by being together - the 30 inc IFES Team - from different groups, getting to know each other and discuss together. The speaker pointed out what a diversity of cultural backgrounds we were from (only a few from the same country), and how well we got on and fellowshipped together. People seemed fairly sensible about sleep, and about enjoying the countryside we were in, and so had energy for all this. It was a good time for getting to know the students and supporting them. The speaker was good on his topics, and really spoke in truth and grace, and so modeled how to address these topics. He guided us through them well. And provided a large book stall of what seemed like great books on ethics from a Christian perspective (and you know I'll always give God thanks for the provision of a good book stall!) We also had a good time, with plenty of laughter and fun. There are students who are keen, who love praising God, who are thirsty to hear from his Word and be changed, and who fellowship together. There are students who testify to God at work in their lives before in remarkable ways through harrowing times. And so for all of that, join with me in giving God thanks.

    At the same time, I long for what might happen in the lives of these students if they had 4 sessions of Christ-exalting expository Bible teaching well applied to them rather than 4 sessions on the topic of ethics (however well done it was). I long to open the word with them in a seminar and look at the mission which God has called us to join in - that of calling those of all nations to join us in praising the excellencies of him who called us from darkness into his glorious light, by his unsurpassable Son. I long to open the word with a small group of them and look at Romans, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, Colossians,... or any epistle for that matter, that they might grasp the glory of the gospel, the power of the gospel, the truth of the gospel, the finality of the gospel, the hope of the gospel. That they might see Jesus. I long for a boldness in evangelism - I long for them to do evangelism. I long for them to take interest and rejoice with the IFES Team that international students are studying the Bible with us. I long for them to discover the word of God: to love it, to be excited about it. I long to be unhindered by language in my already limited service of them, and to be unhindered by my own lack of pursuit of these things.

    I cling to the God who has chosen the weak things of this world to shame the strong. I know nothing else in which to hope but in that his plan for his glory, through his power which raised Christ from the dead. May they know nothing of me but Christ in me, crucified and resurrected, the hope of glory.

    Please join with me in giving thanks for the good. Please ask me regularly what the good is which I'm to encourage and for which I'm to give thanks. And please join with me in praying for the best.

    Thursday, 10 November 2005


    I'll be away at a GBU national camp until late Sunday, and as Belgian 'camp' centres such as we can afford aren't equipped with internet connections, I won't be blogging live from the conference.

    However, please interpret my silence as a call to pray for us, as we hear talks on a Biblical ethic (or the Christian and ethics in society - not sure of the title but it's something along those lines). Pray that the students would be challenged about living the whole of their lives (attitudes, relationships, friendships, etc) under the Lordship of Christ. Pray that they'd be bound together in the love of Christ as they encourage one another and share with each other, especially between the different groups. Pray that we'd get enough sleep to have enough energy for the above, and to enjoy the time away together. Pray that in all of this, the IFES team would also be getting to know the students, support them, and encourage them especially regarding group evangelism.

    Update to follow on Monday!

    Friday, 4 November 2005

    bacon and eggs

    A Chinese student said to me that many Chinese are now interested in Christianity. Knowing this full well, I asked her why she thought this was, and in our ensuing conversation, she showed a perception of the difference between culturally being 'christian' and actually being a Christian. Following my mention of real Christians in China, in contrast with many 'cultural christians' in the UK, she gave the following analogy:

    Suppose I were British, and I eat bacon and eggs for breakfast every day. All my life I eat bacon and eggs for breakfast; I don't know any breakfast but bacon and eggs. I eat it because I have always eaten it. But suppose I were not British, and I come to this country and I have tried many different breakfasts - and I discover bacon and eggs, and I love it! I now have it every day! But there is every difference between discovering bacon and eggs for yourself, and just eating it because you didn't know anything else.*

    A second analogy (the Chinese are good at communicating in stories parables!):
    I am from China, but I have only been to the Great Wall once. But if a friend were to come to China, I would take them to see the Great Wall, and they would be very interested in it. But to me, I am used to it, so I take it forgranted. I don't think about it, I don't notice it.*
    (So those brought up in 'christian culture' take it forgranted, they don't think about it, and they don't appreciate it.)

    "Historically, every culture and country in the world has some religion, some god, except China. [Here she agreed with me that they still have a philosophy on life, a 'religion'.] But we have no god - no High thing, no creator, no 'One'. We are lost in this, so we seek a meaning in life: to make sense of life, and feel satisfied. And Christianity is the biggest religion in the world, so we want to find out more."*

    [*paraphrased because I've tried to remember it.]

    "sometimes things happen in music"

    'I try not to believe in God but sometimes things happen in music, in songs, that bring me up short, make me do a double-take... I'm not sure what difference it makes to me, this occasional vision of the Divine in the music I love... I'm not going to listen to stuff like this too often though, just in case.'
    - novelist Nick Hornby in 31 Songs, Penguin.

    Music heard calls forth feeling of depth beyond words; appeals for sight beyond understanding; creates thought beyond knowledge; instills hope beyond longing. It passes through our feeble thoughts and words and translates them into a breath to dance round our heads; on the way, it snatches at our longing and carries it to the heart. God has given us a capacity for music to worship him, and we find it impels our being to acknowledge the truth to which our minds along so easily rest inert: that we are called to purer and higher worship than our capacity. We ache in recognition of the beauty, of the 'more' that we miss, and long for its consummation. Such is the gift; such is the grace of God. For God to give gifts in which we can be content would be a condemnation; rather he gives that which tears into our contentment with the longing for the substance of what we sense in the gift. Such is also the travesty of worshipping music as an satisfying end. In its most sublime in this creation it calls us to look along it to the Lord, the giver, the creator, the source, the sustainer of all things. Yet how can we? It was given by a God purer and higher than we can naturally face. When in Jesus we see him face to face we will be like him. And then our music will be able to flow, along with every form of art and science, no longer with tears of longing but then purified, set apart to him; and it will be perfect. The longing will be over, and the beauty remain. Is longing intrinsic to beauty? Only in this fallen world, for it gives us a glimpse of what should be, to the glory of God. Will not perfection finish it? Ah but in the new creation, each day of eternity will be a new horizon calling forth deeper and purer and higher notes, to resonate to the glory of God and to the Lamb.

    Friday, 28 October 2005

    Jesus: the first Socialist &/ the ultimate King?

    My French teacher declared that St Peter was crucified upside down because the Christian church was a threat to the hierarchy in society, being such a mix of all classes and treating everyone as equal. After all, she said, Christ was the first socialist (declaring all people equal).

    She's knowledgeable, and being in the class is a delight in getting to discuss things of interest, but also oppressing whenever she declares something about Roman Catholicism or tradition as if it's Christianity. I interjected (in class discussion after all we're encouraged to) that it was only myth that he was crucified upside down in Rome, but anyway, from reading the New Testament it seems that persecution of Christians had less to do with equality of persons and more to do with refusal to treat the emperor as God and insisting that Jesus was God, and explosively using the titles of universal Saviour and Lord for Jesus rather than the emperor being Saviour and Lord. She agreed and we moved on. But it distresses me when it's dismissed as 'interesting cultural background' (like Greek mythology, which also came up) rather than living truth. For a more explicit example: we were discussing how in French, 'Christian' festivals get capital letters, but other festivals don't, and she declared that after all, this was in the time before 'Libre pensée' - Free Thinking. She said this in a way that said not only 'there wasn't equality between religions', but 'of course now we know better'. But it does potentially give opportunities to speak. Please pray that I'd have wisdom and clarity in using them as well as speaking with mind to Jesus as Lord in general class discussion.

    Thursday, 27 October 2005

    Spurgeon hits the mark

    Phil Johnson has drawn attention to Spurgeon's magnificent sermon Christ - our substitute and its particular pertinence to our day, and in so doing, helped me actually read and appreciate a Spurgeon sermon, which has been too vaguely on my to do list for a while.

    Tuesday, 25 October 2005

    Time for some trivia

    I stepped onto the metro on my way to church on Sunday to find in my carriage a man playing the Turkish Rondo on the accordion. Bizarre. He was playing it rather too fast... but as it wasn't written for accordion in the first place, I let him off and chipped in as requested when the time came (signalled, also bizarrely, by a change to an interrupted version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik).

    What does a green man mean at a pedestrian crossing? Here it doesn't necessarily mean that the lights are red for traffic - they just happen to be green for pedestrians too: after all, it's good to be generous.

    I hesitated for a second in replying to a bloke in the laundrette who was offering to help me negotiate my way round the coin-change-token machine, and found him without a thought offering to speak to me in any of 4 other languages. Now that is Brussels!

    Tuesday, 18 October 2005

    Ignorance is bliss?

    I remember the first time I heard of 'New Covenant' and 'Old Covenant': in 1st year, in an something my CUSW had given me to think about. I seem to remember querying his use of the terms: assuming that since I had been well taught and read a lot, and had never heard of these terms, others wouldn't understand them either. Back then, 4 long long years ago, I hadn't met the field of Biblical Theology under that name, with its emphases. I hadn't met anyone who could give a reason for not being sabbatarian which gave serious thought to Scripture (so I could only assume it was an untaught theological laziness). I hadn't, for that matter, met anyone who was serious enough about Scripture to be 'reformed' and was also 'credobaptist' - or not discussed with any at least. I remember showing my wishful ignorance in trying to tell a friend that I didn't think Baptists were wrong; but that I was a paedobaptist. I assumed without knowledge of any possible alternative that the mosaic covenant was one of grace, a further, national, spelling out of the Abrahamic.

    Ignorance was bliss.

    Now I hear a teacher I respect saying that the reason why the Reformation fathers, puritains et al were sabbatarian is because they over-emphasised the continuity of the covenants: that which I assumed for 18 years. Who are we to fly in the face of generations of wise Christians with our 'Biblical Theology'? But who are we to assume they were right? So I'm expected to find nothing disputable about
    "The Old Testament is not our Testament. We should assume... that none of its stipulations are binding on us unless they are renewed in the new covenant."
    while the whole of the reformers and since them to our day (not considering the antinomians etc.) thought otherwise. Which is overemphasised (continuity, discontinuity) and which is right? Which is to be assumed at the expense of the other?

    Now I'm in a culture which assumes that an Evangelical Protestant - even any Protestant - is a Baptist: that is part of Protestantism, in contrast with RC-ism, and a contrast that has been made in my hearing at least 3 times since I arrived a month ago. There is no recognition of a possible reformed paedobaptism. In a meeting the question was asked, 'Who here has been baptised?', and following our show of hands it was clear that according to him, I should not have raised my hand, as he implied that paedobaptism was not baptism. That was at a GBU meeting: ie interdenominational.

    Now I'm in a culture (and have been, in England) which assumes that to be sabbatarian is to be legalistic; assumes that it's obvious that the 4th commandment is not for us.

    In each of these I'm not making a point about the controversial doctrine, indicating or defending where I may currently stand!

    In fact I feel like I standing in a swamp of a battlefield: but in fact, not a battle field in which neither side is engaging the other, but both are firing dismissals of the other into no-man's land: so that although neither is thinking to 'attack' the other as such, by way of not engaging they create a mire inbetween (in which I'm standing trying to work out which is right) torn and muddied with the bombardment of assumptions, filled with the debris of hermeneutical systems over which to stumble, and smokefilled with texts shot from the guns of theological systems without recognition of the target, making it impossible to proceed or to see clearly. Occasionally an off-target presupposition hits me as it flies from one side to another, and when I turn up at the field hospital with a wound they express surprise that I was in no-man's land and not in their trenches firing. How can I know what's right when so many theologians, with the languages and years of study cannot agree? How can I be fully convinced in my own mind? So I'm sinking in an uncertainty inbetween, while the assumptions and dismissals of each inadvertently wound me.

    Monday, 17 October 2005

    Church at worship; worship at church

    Mo at The Lepreblog blogged about the church, and raised a question about gathered believers and God's presence, relating to Sydney Anglicanism: . I found some thoughts by Bill James interesting on the subject of the church at worship.

    Sunday, 16 October 2005

    Simplifying the mysterious



    The Lord's Supper.

    Mysterious, or straightforward and simple? It seems to me that we've bought into the modern way of things to a great degree on these things. (In what's written compared with the past, in attitudes I detect in me, and in what's practised by churches.)

    We don't like mystery in theology, in theory. No thanks - we'll have neat systems, simplified and based on us. 'Not me', you say? For example, when was the last time you heard someone leading a service refer to a sacrament as 'a sign and seal of the covenant of grace' (or explain that concept in different words)? No, that's far too complicated for today - and why, it would imply that God does something in relation to Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper (and then we'd have to think how and why and so on)! We'll call it 'a sign of and testimony to our faith' instead, thereby making in entirely understandable, and relating to us. (Now I'm not suggesting the Reformers were necessarily right, but I don't think that the move away from their vocabulary/theology was because of thought-through theological differences in this instance, but because of the spirit of the age - corrections welcome as always.) It's our natural attitude in evangelism: we will win them by explaining that it's altogether natural, straightforward and nothing mysterious at all. When I write it down like that, I think, "But no - it's not as if I deny the miraculous: I testify to the resurrection!" But I still always have the temptation and tendency to de-mysterialise. Do I mention the trinity when I speak of God? Do I shy away from speaking of the Holy Spirit? Or from mentioning the devil (or do I attribute everything to natural causes)? Am I happy to speak of just a part of the gospel at one time, leaving some mystery for future updates, or must I launch the complete system (according to me, copyright 2005)? Have I bought into the scientific ideal that we can naturally explain everything?

    I'm not for mystery for the sake of mystery. I have heard some well-intentioned evangelism that was like launching an army of spiritual-sounding words each representing a concept so mysterious that the non-Christian was left clueless. That is clearly not the way Paul declared the mystery of the gospel, for example.

    However, speaking not so particularly of evangelism but of church life in general, it could be seen in miniature in how we read NT use of 'mystery'. We seem to tend to react one of two ways:
    1) we think "mystery -> we can't understand this; we must just experience it". This is a common tendency, but not what I'm addressing here - perhaps because, as a scientific mind, this doesn't tempt me much. See Paul's "I want you to understand this mystery" (Rom11.25), "according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations" (R16.25-26), "I tell you a mystery" (1Cor15.51), "in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will" (Eph1.8-9), and so on - various uses of 'mystery', but always refering to one revealed so that we know it and grow in understanding of it.
    2) we think "mystery now revealed = no longer a mystery". That's not how it's used in the NT. It is still a mystery, but now one that God has revealed to us. It hasn't been made straightforward, still less has it been made natural.

    We must stop trying to make the church something natural - a natural church isn't a church at all, but an ugly parody. The NT is persistant in referring to Christ and the church as a mystery revealed. It's all about Christ, who, revealed, is still a mystery: gloriously and savingly so.

    Saturday, 15 October 2005

    Manuscript BS and pomo hermeneutic

    The GBU last year used the Manuscript Bible Study method. We've moved this year to the (Observation, Interpretation, Application - same in French!) prepared questions method. Now, I had never really thought of MBS as bad - it just takes ages. In fact, I thought that I was using it in part in my Clifton SLOBS last year. That said, I don't think I've ever done a full MBS study. (With Clifton we used it with a suggested range of questions to consider until we arrived at a main teaching point and aim, and then went to suggested questions to use for the groups, because of time.) So I'd never considered what it actually is. My IFES team leaders here pointed out that what ends up being discussed is the points of the passage which most members find interesting. This may not be the emphasis of the passage. If the leader has prepared well, then it shouldn't be bad interpretation, but ultimately the group is in charge.

    It struck me (acknowledging that I've been enjoying reading Vanhoozer's "Is there meaning in this text?") that this is essentially a postmodern hermeneutic: it dethrones the author (whether real or implied) and puts the reader in charge of meaning. Does the text itself have an intended meaning? Does it have an intended response?? These are rhetorical questions - responses would involve a dissertation the size of Vanhoozer's tome... but clearly the answer that MBS implies (even if it is used for better purposes) is that the reader is in charge of the text, its meaning, and the response. The author doesn't call for a response; rather, the reader responds to what the reader has decided of the text. Thus the reader conditions the text, rather than the text conditioning the reader.

    As Christians, we have a resposability to be more careful readers than MBS allows/proscribes. We are made and redeemed to be in God's image: personal, communicating, responsable beings who act in covenant relationships with each other. We must be careful readers of each other's communication, and supremely careful readers of God's communication.

    Of course, OIA questions don't guarantee this, but would seem to more carefully consider that there is an author with intended meaning and intended response.

    (Vanhoozer's thesis is that text is coventantal communicative action. He has a lot more to say about it, and further logs may follow: I'm loving it! There's a lot more to consider about how much the response produced is part of the meaning too, and to what extent the author is responsable for responses - I hope he'll say more in what I haven't yet read. That also has implications for the proposed UK law on incitement to religious hatred: none of us act as if deconstruction is true, but as if we are creatures of real communicative action!)

    Come on, what's going on?

    An informative post is a little overdue.

    I'm now helping with Mons GBU, which is 1.5 hours from my place by public transport. The leader is Eunice, a lovely girl studying translation - so even sympathetic to my mistakes in French :) I enjoyed helping her prepare the Luke 2 study this week: took a long time and was hard work, but I think I was enjoying the privilege of being able to serve God in this way, studying his Word with a student, and her commitment to leading her group in doing so.

    On the English-speaking international side of things, some Chinese students are very interested and some meeting up for Bible study, and on the francophone international side, having got a male team member to join me, I met up with a guy from Woluwe campus who's interested in discussing more, and we had a good time of discussion. He might go to the GBU group on that campus, and has borrowed a book on his main question :) I think he's searching for answers to avoid searching for God though. Not that that's surprising, given Romans 1. Pray that God would open his eyes to see his glory in Christ - that he would look to Christ as we tried to urge him, rather than looking to get a philosophical system sorted.

    Thursday, 13 October 2005

    Telegraph | Opinion | There's plenty of life left in the churches

    "According to Brierley, the Churches that are growing are the ones which are orthodox but experimental: the Pentecostals and evangelicals, relaxed in style but strict in substance, liberal in all but doctrine and appealing not to liturgy but to grace."

    Spotted in Telegraph opinion (well you wouldn't find it in the Guardian): what think ye?

    Thursday, 22 September 2005

    The final cry of Braveheart.

    There's a verse going round and round in my head at the moment, that I learnt in French in a Beach Mission in Belgium a few years ago: "(John 8:36) Si le Fils vous affranchit, vous serez réellement libres." I don't know why it came to mind. But while it's been in my head, I've been thinking about it. We have in Brussels 2 'Free' Universities - the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel - set up in reaction to the monopoly of the RC church on education. They pride themselves on secularity and a secular, 'free thinking' approach. When this touches on religion, in class they study it 'scientifically, objectively' (as if this can be so), and out of class, it's effectively banned - to have Christian meetings on campus, or advertised on campus, would endanger the freedom of the students it seems! In establishing freedom from the imposition of Catholicism, they have rather established the imposition of the faith-system of secularity.

    Yet in this sad and difficult context, God is answering prayer. At the VUB, through a Dutch-speaking team member's contact with a Christian in the International office, we've been given permission to flyer for our International 'Open House' events, since the events aren't intrinsically evangelistic, but social (apart from the Christmas one which states clearly on the flyer). We hope to get to know the students at these meetings and offer Bible studies outside of them to those who are interested. When giving out these flyers, our Team Leader Tim got chatting to a member of staff having a cigarette break, who asked, "You know this is a free university?" to which Tim replied, "Yes, we've been given permission to give these out." The guy thought for a second and replied, "Well yes, it is a free university, not an atheist university." That someone would think that at one of these uni's is a miracle in answer to prayer! Praise God :-)

    We went to a public lecture put on by the "Centre Interdisciplinaire d'Etude des Religions et de la Laïcité" (laïcité is the philosophy of secularity). They are convinced that secularity is the answer to everything. Convinced that they can have freedom in their thinking. My prayer is that through the power of the gospel in the lives and words of GBU members, some would realise that it is only if the Son sets you free that you shall be truly free.


    The watchword of today, and the yardstick: tolerance.

    If you look up tolerance in a thesaurus, you'll find not far off the word "charity" - that is, love for one's neighbour. But the tolerance of today is far from that: tolerance instead could be used synonymously with indifference. "You believe differently from me, but I don't care; it's all the same to me." How different to how we are called to live as Christians: with love for our neighbour: "You believe differently to me, and I care for you nevertheless. How strong is the sentiment, attitude and action to which we are called by Christ - not putting up with our neighbour's differences out of dispassionate indifference, but loving our neighbour even in their differences. If we settle for the tolerance of today, we're selling short the gospel life to which we are called - to welcome others as Christ has welcomed us.

    Is God then tolerant? Not of sin: to such an extent that his own Son took the punishment for it for those who trust in him. I quote (roughly translated) from David Brown's book 'Passerelles', p.94:

    "Can we say that the gospel is intolerant? Yes, it is in its denunciation of evil. However, the steps taken by God to oppose sin are of a pedagogical nature. God reprimands, exhorts and gives time for repentance. God isn't tolerant in the modern sense, that is to say, indifferent, even lax. In a certain sense, you could say that God is tolerant in regard to sin because "He does not deal with us according to our sins" (Ps.103:10). But it is preferable to say that God is patient with his unfaithful creatures, letting them have time to return to Him. It is Christ's sacrifice which took the just and legitimate punishment. Peter said that God "is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Given this delay, the absence of immediate consequences mustn't lead us into error, because God, as Paul said, "now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed" (Acts 17:30-31), that is Jesus Christ."

    God is not indifferent, but love. He hates the sin to the extent of the death of Christ and of hell. But he is patient with the sinner, giving time to repent. In our interaction with our neighbours, we are not to be indifferently tolerant, but to love.

    Francophonisation...or a lack of Dairy Milk

    Halfway home following the above incident, it occured to me that the store inspector had called me 'tu' rather than 'vous' at some point in the proceedings - and I came over all indignant at the thought! That lasted 5 seconds, until I realised that I was feeling indignant at being called 'tu', and was rather amused with myself.

    After such a minorly perturbing episode, I wanted some nice cheese. I got home, had a piece of nice cheese, and typed the above blog. I then thought, 'Hang on Grier! When feeling slightly shaken, you're supposed to feel like eating chocolate, not cheese for goodness sake!' Oops. Someone slightly francophonised a part of me when I wasn't looking :-\ Of course, when there's no Dairy Milk...

    Mlle R Grier, voleuse?

    Shopping is frustrating in another country - it takes ages just due to unfamiliarity with the shops, the products, and the language, and I can never find exactly what I want...

    It was made rather more daunting though when, having negotiated the supermarket in search of bluetack, raisins, AA batteries and floppy disks, and having only found the raisins and the batteries; having paid, and proceding through the exit, I was accosted by a man who flashed a *hm, it appears to be an ID card but I couldn't see it* card at me and announced he was a store inspector and please step aside to be asked a few questions... rather baffled, at first I thought he must be carrying out a questionnaire of shoppers. But it didn't quite seem to fit. He asked for my receipt and asked me a question which I didn't understand. Seeing that I didn't understand, he guided me back into the shop, trying to rephrase it - asking me something about if I'd bought (phonetic english) 'peel' (des piles). Since I still didn't understand (if you don't know the pertinent word, you don't know the word, no matter how the question's rephrased!), he then asked if I'd forgotten to pay for anything! To which of course I replied with a surprised 'non!' and had more of an idea that Something Wasn't Quite Right about this. Saying that I had had 'des piles' in my hand (eh?), he lead me to the shelves of batteries... Oh! It dawned on me. 'Des piles' = batteries, and the receipt had listed them under their brand name abbreviated: which he hadn't recognised! Relieved, I hurridly said, "mais oui, c'est le Duracel - voila, ce sont les Duracels!" and having produced them from my bag, and pointed it out to him on the receipt, all was well. It took me a while to find the 'exit without purchase' way out, but I emerged (of which I was glad) simply a little shaken.

    They obviously do a good job of store security, if he'd spotted me with batteries, thought that I hadn't paid for them, and gone to the exit to accost me - but a bad job, that he hadn't spotted that I'd paid for them, & didn't recognise them on the receipt! But given that they can't keep an eye on everyone in the store, in what way did I arouse suspicion? Is it the NUCU hoody that looks dodgy? ;-)

    Ah la belle vie! You're reading the blog of Mlle R Grier, suspected thief extraordinaire.

    I thought I'd got out o Norn Iron!

    Conversation with shopkeeper (translated, obviously!):
    me: [something inconsequential]
    him: ah, you're British?
    me: [Thinking: do you have to point out how obvious my accent is?] Yes, I'm British
    him: which city are you from?
    me: Belfast
    him: oh, so Irish then, not British!
    me: uh, no in fact, I'm British...
    him: but you should say, "I'm Irish!"
    me: "ça m'est égale": at the moment, it's part of the UK, so I'm British - I've British rights, privileges, and responsabilities...
    him: oh, so you think you're better off British?
    me: uh, it's the same to me.
    him: but England took over Ireland!
    me: I say I'm British because I am, and if it changes, *shrug*
    him: you'll follow?
    me: yup.

    What is it with norn irish politics? A Belgian shopkeeper for goodness sake!

    Thursday, 15 September 2005

    Cats, dogs, and drowned rats.

    This afternoon I spent putting up posters on the nearest university campus. The event is tomorrow evening: an Open House event for international students.
    Aside to Warwick grads: I'd designed the poster, and it was for int'l students, so in memory of Warwick days under Sarah Holt, I opted for fuchsia coloured paper in the copy shop!
    Anyway, doing that in such weather as it was gave rise to an explanation to my two Dutch team-mates of not only the concept of 'raining cats and dogs' (to which they'd been introduced by their English textbook!) but its resultant 'looking like a drowned rat' concept. Now just praying that (a) the posters don't get taken down before tomorrow afternoon and (b) it isn't pouring tomorrow when we flyer just outside campus - aren't allowed to do it on campus (indoors!).
    Oh and you could pray that GBU would get some more money from somewhere: despite having been treasurer and publicity coordinator, I've never yet run into the idea of actually not being able to flyer (for GBU groups in this case) because we can't afford to print flyers.

    [Posted after delay on 22/09]

    Tuesday, 13 September 2005


    At the w/e I asked several of the responsables individually what they like about GBU. They each replied that what they like about GBU is meeting other Christians their own age. In a country where the evangelical churches are a small despised minority, and each is probably the only one aged between 18 & 26 in their church, this fellowship is precious. Yet it also makes it difficult for them to think beyond the safe bounds of their fellowship and reach out in evangelism. They have non-Christian friends and acquaintances, but evangelistic expectation needs prayer and encouraging.

    Monday, 12 September 2005

    GBU Camp pour 'responsables'

    Arrived in Brussels on Thu eve and on Fri left for the GBU leaders' start of year training w/e. Although we (the IFES team) were exhausted to head straight into this, I'm very glad for it: it was great to meet the responsables (GBU group leaders - one per group) and get to know them. Pleasant surprises/answers to prayer with remembering their names, being able to follow most of the French and converse (albeit with mistakes, but they were kind considering my 'go for it whatever the blunders' policy!), and growing to love them and have a hope of being able to be used in building them up in Christ. It was also a great way to get a feel for the GBU, 'where it's at' and so on. So thank God for all these things in the w/e. And for having today off!

    (This was posted belatedly.)

    Thursday, 8 September 2005

    Strange unbidden thoughts

    Being in a strange situation has caused me to think things which are against what I actually know to be true and believe, and alarmingly self-interested. It's as if my mind, taken by surprise, jolts up feelings/thoughts unbidden. Perhaps a sort of in-built self-preservation thing. So anyway, I found myself thinking at the airport: "Why on earth am I doing this? This is madness. I could've been comfortable in England. Someone remind me of why I'm stepping on this plane!" So I had to talk back to myself (a good discipline): of course the answer to Why on earth am I doing this? is that it can't be done in heaven, and it's what we're called to do as part of 'your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'. It is following Jesus' example of leaving heaven to partially inaugurate heaven on earth; it is a sign of the gospel's power to redeem us from the curse on Babel's rebellion; it is a sign of not belonging to one tribe or nation but to the kingdom already inaugurated in the people of God on earth; looking forward to Rev 7:9-10. If you could remind me of that every so often I'm sure it'd be helpful :-) and pray that in my innermost being I'd delight in God's word, not seeking self.

    PS I'd forgotten about mosquitos. D'oh.

    (This was posted belatedly.)