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.