Friday, 27 January 2006

Your local Christian bookshop: epilogue

I basically finished this series on the local Christian bookshop here. But is it an impossible call, for the reformation of Christian bookshops? Perhaps. Every ministry within the body of Christ is impossible to us alone. But God has determined to build his church, and has chosen to use us in that so that his glory is displayed in our weakness! He doesn't give up on the transformation of his body, the Church, to be like Christ - so we shouldn't give up on any area of its service either.

So to wrap up this series and complement the example of a bookshop ministry given previously, I will testify to God's grace in providing and working through ministers (staff) as described in part 4.

My father has ministered as the manager of a local Christian bookshop for 32 years so far. He left a more lucrative career with good prospects which was suitable to his qualifications, to serve the church as a lowly shop manager. But he gained the privilege of ministering God's word to God's people in churches of all denominations throughout the locality and in all the country, through serving them with Christ-exalting books as I've described. He'd be the first to say that he's made some mistakes in his 32 years. But God's grace is shown in his commitment to propagating the truth of God's gospel of grace and giving no room to false teaching, and in his love for the church as he ministers graciously and gospel-centredly to people from all sorts of backgrounds. To an extent, he serves as pastor-teacher and a missionary.

God has enough grace and power to reform the ministry of your local Christian bookshop to his glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. Be involved - it's a privilege.

-> May God be glorified in raising up more servants willing to 'stoop' to serving God's people in local Christian bookshops, who will be passionately inflexible on ministering the gospel and no 'other gospel', committedly gracious on fellowship regarding secondary things, and who will put the good of God's people before any other business aim.
To the reformation of the ministry of the local Christian bookshop to God's glory in the church and in Christ Jesus! Amen?


Apparently doctors somewhere have officially classified shopaholism as a disease. So reported a friend in my French class during our journal parlé yesterday. They say that sufferers exhibit the same symptoms as, for example, alcoholics. Addiction, compulsion, life being destroyed... yes, it's easy to see why disease was used as a picture of sin and why sin is sometimes described as a disease. The old nature is addicted to sin, compelled by sin and destroys itself with sin.

In shopaholism, I'm told that it is not the items bought which are compelling - it's the feeling of significance and security in spending money - in buying. It's so easy - it even comes with its own amusing theme-tune (worth checking out!)

It's so easy - feeling significance and security on the basis of our bank balance or ability to buy Things. Yet it's Babel-like: we always find some way in which we seek to feel significance and security for ourselves without reference to the God who made us. God does keep warning us of this: it isn't healthy to seek significance and security for ourselves without reference to God. It's cursed. You could say, in fact, that it's a symptom of being diseased.

Of course, it's not as if we're unwillingly prey to illness. In rebellion we set ourselves up for it. In this instance we're clearly told,
"You shall not covet your neighbour's house;
you shall not covet your neighbour's wife,
or his male servant,
or his female servant,
or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbour's."
Why, all that repitition: you could almost make a song out of that!
Is our problem that we're so used to having money that we think we're free from coveting?

"All these commandments I have kept from my youth - I don't covet; I buy!"

There is grace: grace to look to God for salvation, significance and security. They don't sell that on ebay.

Thursday, 26 January 2006

Your local Christian bookshop: 4

After an introduction and a reminder of the good, we've considered the complaints, both widely and more specifically. We've had a testimonial look at the ministry. Now for a consideration of the ministers - that is, the shop staff of our reforming Christian bookshops.

The ministers in your local Christian bookshop...

Scott commented, "To effect any significant change, one would have to be employed in the store." While I object that if we all participated in the ministry of the Christian bookshop towards its reformation it would have a significant change, it's clear that much does depend on the staff. And certainly it's the staff who we blame when we complain about the shop! So, even given that we're all going to work towards the reformation of the Christian bookshop, what makes a good staff member in a local Christian bookshop?

  • to be a Christian - obvious, but becoming increasingly difficult with anti-discrimination laws. Love for God (so for his glory in the propagation of his gospel not reduced from its glorious truth), for his people (a commitment not just to 'sell books' but to minister to God's people) and for those not yet in his people (to take every opportunity to minister to non-Christians). We also assume that what I detail below is pursued with consistency in all of life, by the grace of God.

  • theological understanding and interest in growing it, including knowledge of church history - so that you may 'proclaim Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ'. So that you may advise on which commentaries are best (at each level). So that you may discern the truth and nuances of error in popular books plugged by distributors, in the latest academic texts, in childrens stories. So that you may advise seminary students on the titles on their reading lists, and often on good evangelical alternatives to complement their reading lists. So that you may advise every Christian on the best books to build them in knowledge of Christ from 'where they are' presently. So that you may advise preachers on what books faithfully address current issues and challenges. So that you may advise on issues of Bible translation. So that you may help Christians in conviction and grace in non-gospel issues through books, recommendations and discussion. So that, effectively, you may be a faithful minister of God's word in the context of the bookshop.

  • pastoral concern for your customers - to seek to get to know them and care for them with the ministry of books, advice and fellowship. This can be done to an extent even in serving someone you've never met before. This necessitates some people skills - ability to relate to customers, communicate, etc. So that, effectively, you may be a loving servant of God's people in the context of the bookshop.

  • a passion for evangelism - to serve the church with easy ways of getting evangelistic material out to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible. So that, effectively, you may be a committed link in the spread of God's gospel through the context of the bookshop.

  • a commitment to get to know the books available - this is necessary to all of the above. A computer stock search just doesn't do it! You're a doctor, listening to the symptoms, taking a history, diagnosing the solution and providing the cure. But you need to know the medecines available to know exactly what to proscribe! So that, effectively, you may be a skillful worker in God's house in the context of the bookshop.

  • good business sense - inc. arithmetic, etc. You've got to keep it in the black. So that you may be under God a faithful steward of the resources of the bookshop.

  • you also usually need to be fit and healthy - there's no small amount of lifting boxes & standing on your feet all day serving etc.

    Now do you have some idea of why you complain about the staff in your local Christian bookshop?

  • If you had someone in your church who was a Christian of tested service in the church, with theological understanding, a pastoral concern for God's people, a passion for evangelism, and people skills, what would you advise them? To go manage a Christian bookshop for the whole of their life? No, you'd have signed up to be a pastor - or if you were feeling more sacrificial, a missionary. We leave the Christian bookshops to the Christian business people, and then criticise them because they don't minister the gospel faithfully according to the qualifications of eldership. So elders: rather than despair of your local Christian bookshop, perhaps you should 'set apart' some of your godly church members for ministry in a Christian bookshop. Staff of a Christian bookshop are ministers in a ministry. We don't expect them to be less. Why not encourage them to be as much?

    -> Pray for the ministers (staff) who serve in your local Christian bookshop.
    -> Encourage them in their ministry both by expressing your appreciation of it in as much as it is good (encourage the good wherever you find it, and if you can't find it, look harder) and perhaps sharing a little of your vision for its ministry. Encourage them by participating in the reformation of the ministry as I've suggested in previous posts. Encourage them by telling them that you pray for their ministry (and do so!).
    -> Also: Consider whether this ministry is for you. Yes, that's what I said. Also consider whether someone in your church has this character and gifts and could be encouraged to consider it.
    -> Look over the role of the staff of a Christian bookshop again. Now pray for the Lord to give the vision, burden and equipping for this ministry to some such people! Every time you find yourself thinking about your local Christian bookshop (or lack of it), pray this again.

    To wrap up this mini-series of posts I'll add a brief testimonial epilogue as the next post.

    Tuesday, 24 January 2006

    Your local Christian bookshop: 3

    So far:
    Your local Christian bookshop: Intro,
    Your local Christian bookshop: 1 (Complaints considered) and
    Your local Christian bookshop: 2 (Calling offline)
    Now as promised,

    The ministry of the Christian bookshop

    In my second post, I encouraged us to pray for the reformation of our Christian bookshops. So what does a reformed Christian bookshop look like? What is its ministry? Before considering, in our next post, the ministers of such ministry (shop staff), here follows an article I wrote for the Evangelical Presbyterian magazine last year, which will give a 'testimonial' picture:

    The excitement of summertime

    During the summer, many young people engage in missions. Similarly, last summer, and for a week this summer, I joined in an exciting mission team - in the Evangelical Bookshop. Many of you will be aware that this July we rearranged the books topically, so things should be easier for the customer to find. But that wasn't our mission, it merely serves it. The mission of the Evangelical Bookshop is found in serving people like the following:

    - An elderly gentleman who noticed an evangelistic book in the window, "Where is God when things go wrong?" We were closed, but when he mentioned this book we ran after him to give it to him, whereupon he told us that his wife had died a few months previously.
    - A young African student asking for a Bible, clearly his first one - we were able to sell him one very cheaply which was in English easy for him to read (his English wasn't great), guide him to start reading in Mark, explain why and gave him a copy of Read, Mark, Learn with it.
    - A Vicar wanting Bibles to give at infant baptisms - rather than providing him with little pastel coloured ones which parents use as pretty keepsakes and never open, we guided him to several varieties of My First Bibles, which the parents might actually take off the shelf and read to the children. He went away arms laden!
    - German tourists wanting postcards: we gave them copies of Ultimate Questions in German, while guiding them to a nearby postcard-selling shop. (We give out many copies of UQ in many different languages this way.)
    - Ministerial students with reading lists for the Autumn term, wanting advice on which books would be most helpful for their studies.
    - A lady wanting a Bible which her Granddaughter would be likely to read and understand.
    - Hundreds of children, from both Christian and non-Christian families - served through bookstalls sent out to summer camps.
    - A lady, by phone, needing several books and booklets on starting out in the Christian life for a friend who had just become a Christian.
    - Ministers seeking advice on which commentaries to get on certain Bible books, for their forthcoming sermon series.

    Serving Christians and non-Christians with Bibles and Christ-exalting books is tremendously exciting! It has possibly the furthest-reaching effect of any mission team, reaching to all denominations, and through all those Christians, to so many different non-Christians. Praise God for the ministry of the shop and for the staff, and please remember to pray regularly that this may long continue to God's glory, in the building of his Church.

    The mission? "The Evangelical Bookshop has as its mission to bring glory to God by the promotion of the Evangelical and Reformed Faith by circulating as many Bibles and Christ-honouring books as possible within an organised structure."

    [NB: my goal in this post is not particularly to plug the bookshop mentioned here. I love it and its ministry, but it also has its problems and more to the point, in all likelihood it isn't your local Christian bookshop. This is inserted as an example of what the ministry of a Christian bookshop may look like, from an article previously written.]

    So if that's the testimonial on the ground, what about the theory? What about the stock?

    "They can only stock what sells"

    This is often cited as the reason why Christian bookshops can't stock better books. In part, it is true. A bookshop has overheads to cover - staff to pay, ground tax or rent and bills to pay and so on. A bookshop must make enough to cover its overheads. However, surely none of us are as naïve as to think that a shop's stocking policy must be only 'stock what sells'? Every shop has a more specific stocking policy than that! I'm told that hard drugs sell remarkably well, but no supermarket stocks them. Yet a Christian bookshop sells books as harmful and addictive in the realm of thought and belief.

    Think of a major music chain. It doesn't just stock what sells - it also decides what will sell by the music it prominently displays, the music it plays, how it arranges its shop floor (which categories it puts where), what it advertises, what it puts on offer... to some degree responding to demand, and to another creating demand. On what criteria will it recommend music? Will it have a top 20 wall? A 'staff's choice' (like Borders bookshop)? Feature a different genre each month? No-one simply responds to demand. Every shop has to decide a mission statement somewhere on the respond to demand - create demand scale.

    So a Christian bookshop has a mission (as does every shop - ask management trainees!) What I am calling for is that a Christian bookshop should have a mission in line with the gospel. Its stocking policy (on the respond-create demand scale) should be in line with the gospel. That will effect its shop layout, its publicity, its prices, and so on: creating demand. But when it comes to responding to demand, we don't buy the line, "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians are Mormons now so we stock Mormon books." Why is this ridiculous? Because it doesn't measure up to the gospel yardstick. So why should anyone go with the line, "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians don't believe Jesus died in their place now, so we stock books which deny this or leave it out", or "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians believe at the end of the day that they can please God by what they do, so we stock books which affirm that." Or "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians want to be conformed by the comforting of their mind so we sell nice books for that." What?? It would be no excuse for a preacher to say, "They want to hear X so I preached to them X", if X were heresy. Why is it an excuse in a Christian bookshop? Why demand that our churches are governed and measured by the gospel, and let our Christian bookshops be governed and measured by what our itching ears want to hear?

    Of course there is interaction with what the customers want. Hence my suggestions for action in the previous post! But it never be at the expense of the Christian bookshop serving the greater mission of building Christ's church. May the yardstick always be the gospel.

    -> Pray for a reformation in Christian bookshops, to produce bookshops which have as their mission to bring glory to God by the promotion of the Evangelical and Reformed faith by circulating as many Bibles and Christ-honouring books as possible within an organised structure. Pray for ministry as in the above examples to happen through your local Christian bookshop.

    In the next post: the ministers of this work - AKA shop staff. [Or 'The Reformed Minister' (no apologies to Baxter).]

    Monday, 23 January 2006

    Your local Christian bookshop: 2

    So far:
    Your local Christian bookshop: Intro and
    Your local Christian bookshop: 1 (Complaints considered)

    I ended my last Local Christian Bookshop post with this:
    "Therefore I contend that Christian bookshops are not to be abandoned, but reformed. Because whereas you may be able to advise those around you which books to read, and they can get them online, the group of Christians you know are not alone in the body of Christ. The reformation of Christian bookshops matters to the building up of Christ's church."

    Before continuing, I want in this post to deal with one objection to my call for prayer and action to the reformation of Christian bookshops. The conclusion of many Christians is "(I've had good advice and) I know the books I want - and I can get them online cheaper anyway."

    Well, nice one for you! What about all those Christians who haven't had good advice? They're stuck with what's in their local Christian bookshop, which, if bad, isn't going to get any better if all of those who know what the best books disappear to the internet. Those who haven't had the good advice (young? new Christians? non-Christians?) are stuck with the popular fiction with an emphasis away from the primary things of the glorious gospel of our blessed God, and the best-selling heresy being plugged by glossy posters. They're left with the man-centred therapy books and the works-centred 'how to' books. They're left with the bland and poisonous semi-Gospel With the Hard Bits Taken Out books and the treacherous Jesus PLUS My Hobby Horse books. But we're not to worry, because all the well-advised Christians are happily buying healthy God-centred, Christ-exalting books online. We'll keep ourselves well-fed, and use the energy to bewail or berate the others for their lack of discernment that they haven't found similar food to eat. Natural selection perhaps - the strong get stronger and the weak are weeded out? What? Is this how we act in the body of Christ? If you care about the church of Christ, which is his body, his bride, then you will not leave others to this! You will not abandon the Christian bookshop to feed others rubbish while you look after yourself elsewhere.

    I remember when with a friend I walked into our local Christian bookshop in a new town and asked for J.C.Ryle's 'Holiness'. The staff had never heard of it. I explained who J.C.Ryle had been, what the book was about and what a classic it was... but stopped short of ordering it - I was flabberghasted and walked out again. I only cared for my friend getting the book. I didn't care for all the other Christians in that city who would use the shop. Of course I wouldn't have said that - I was appalled by the shop and of course I wanted it to be better, to feed healthy food to the Christians of the city. But I obviously didn't love them that much - I just focussed on the needs of my friend and myself, and left the rest to rot.

    So if you care for Christ's church and want good books, what can you do apart from go online?
    You walk into your local Christian bookshop and ask them to order the Good Books you want if they don't have them. You may need to tell them the publisher. And yes, they may be available cheaper online. But online you wouldn't get the opportunity to help the staff better stock their shop for the building up of the church. Online you don't have the opportunity to edify the other customers who are in there in a vague search for something to help them live as Christians, hear you extolling the merits of said Good Books and may decide to get them too. By being in your local Christian bookshop you also have occasion to discuss with other customers, helping them onwards, sharing about books you've found helpful and even being encouraged by them in what they've learnt from some books too. In your local Christian bookshop you have the opportunity to fellowship with Christians from other local churches and build each other up in the body of Christ by discussing and pointing to great gospel-centred books.

    And as all the 'well-advised' Christians who have gone online start revisiting their local Christian bookshop, and, praying for its reformation, are determined not to roll the eyes and walk out again, but to order what books they want and engage in building up the staff, shop and customers, those local Christian bookshops will start bit by bit to reform.

    -> Don't just go to your local Christian bookshop to receive, criticise and give up on it. Go to your Christian bookshop to minister, and if you don't receive, then minister some more. And keep praying for the reform of Christian bookshops.

    Coming next: the ministry of the Christian bookshop (or "What might a reformed bookshop look like?")

    Saturday, 21 January 2006

    At the seaside

    A break from bookshop blogging: today I went to the seaside with a friend from church. Yes, it's January. Yes, we went to the seaside. Yes, I know you'd already cleverly got it figured out that I'm mad. Call me Irish. Anyway.
    It was a glorious day:

    And I think my friend enjoyed it too, which is particulary nice because she's got to be in hospital most of the time.

    We went to De Panne (Flemish), AKA La Panne (in French translation), AKA The Breakdown (if you're being boorish and wanting to translate it into English). We both know it from having done Missions Vacances there. It's different in winter without the crowds, beach huts and inflatable giraffe. However it still had a good friterie (many actually, but one with which we're acquainted), a lovely choclaterie (same) and people on multi-person cycling contraptions. In fact, apart from it being a little too cold, I prefered it to summertime La Panne.

    Friday, 20 January 2006

    Your local Christian bookshop: 1

    So far: Your local Christian bookshop: intro.

    I said in the intro that I would start with complaints considered. So:

    A summary of complaints made by Reformed bloggers about Christian bookshops local to them:

  • they mostly sell trinkets supposedly Christian by merit of a <>< or cross. [To paraphrase the Shudall from memory: "Clothes cannot be Christian! They don't have souls! Christ didn't die for them! They don't trust in him! Get over it!" :-) ]

  • they don't sell the Puritans (or other Good Books judged to be minority interest)

  • the stocking policy is 'whatever will sell well' (also 'whatever my main distributor pushed on me together with promotional material'). This includes heresy, dubious pop psychology with a Christian veneer, awful fiction-coated bad theology, the latest by the Pope and the latest diatribe against Papery.

  • the staff don't have much clue theologically or pastorally - that is, they don't know God's word well enough to discern truth from error in potential stock, &/ they don't care enough about those they're serving to encourage them in the truth and warn them against error.

  • I can get the books I want cheaper on the internet anyway.

    If this is the case in every local Christian bookshop, it is a Bad Situation. Why? Because God's glory matters and God has spoken to reveal himself and his salvation to his glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. He had it committed to writing to the end of his glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. So that we do not neglect our great salvation, what Christians read matters for God's glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. Therefore it matters for God's glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, to what extent a Christian bookshop serves the building up of Christ's church! It is sick that one Christian would serve another with bad food. We should be doing everything possible in God's grace to feed each other well, to equip each other for service, to proclaim the glories of Christ, to warn everyone and teach everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. This mutual edification crosses the globe and the centuries as we learn from those who have gone before us in the body of Christ and wrote down for our benefit what they learned. We ignore it to our loss. We read it to our gain. We share it to our gain. Others gain and God is glorified in the church. Christian bookshops matter.

    Therefore I contend that Christian bookshops are not to be abandoned, but reformed. Because whereas you may be able to advise those around you which books to read, and they can get them online, the group of Christians you know are not alone in the body of Christ. The reformation of Christian bookshops matters to the building up of Christ's church.

    -> Pray about reading & sharing to the building up the body of Christ, and how you might grow in doing this practically. Pray for the reformation of Christian bookshops.

    Coming next: focussing in on last complaint - "I can get them cheaper online anyway".
  • Thursday, 19 January 2006

    Your local Christian bookshop: intro

    It's a hot topic in the Reformed blogosphere. Not baptism, not the Emerging Church, not charismata, not even (denial of) substitutionary atonement. In fact, it hasn't taken up hours'-worth of blogosphere debate at all. But it is mentioned again and again: Christian bookshops. (That's bookstores to those across the pond.) Reformed bloggers seem to all be mourning the state of their local Christian bookshops (apart from Cent, & he runs his). Those who know me outside of the blogosphere will know that Christian book ministry is something about which I'm passionate. So, finally I've decided to post on the subject, aiming to do so constructively. There's a lot of good to encourage, but it won't make much sense unless we consider the bad also (hm, sounds familiar).

    In the next post, I'll summarise complaints and comment. Secondly, I'll focus in on one of the complaints. Thirdly I'll consider the ministry of the Christian bookshop. Fourthly, the ministers. And as an 'afterword', a testimony. In each, I'll issue some calls to prayer /& action. As regards prayer, I'm reminding myself as much as anyone else.

    Starting with a wide screen shot:

  • How blessed are we, that we can read?
  • How blessed are we, that God has given us a desire to read books which will help us know and enjoy him more?
  • How blessed are we, there are SO MANY of these good books in English?
  • How blessed are we, that relatively speaking, we can afford them?
  • How blessed are we, that it is legal to print them, legal to sell them, legal to sell them and legal to read them?
  • How blessed are we, that some people in our lives have recommended books to us enough that we know something of which ones are Good Books?

    -> Join me in praising God for these blessings. Pray for better stewardship of them. Praying for those parts of the world where they aren't the case.

    Next up: Complaints considered.
  • Wednesday, 18 January 2006

    Tag, I'm it!

    It's finally got me - the 7x7 meme that's been going round like a winter flu. Ant tagged me a while ago. So, here goes:

    Seven things to do before I die
    1) Grow more like Jesus
    2) Get rid of my anglophone accent when speaking French
    3) Help many other people know God better through Bible study, life-imitation and reading ;-)
    4) Finish learning Ephesians. And put it into practice. Ha!
    5) [PM, if you're reading this skip to the next one.] Hang-glide.
    6) Figure out the relationship between the covenants (I've grown clearer on the Mosaic law-Abramic covenant relation but then there's the interplay of 'Covenant' Theology and 'Biblical' Theology... all makes the 'Sabbath' and baptism rather fun.)
    7) Learn to be content

    Seven things I cannot do
    1) Ice-skate properly. It's a one-footed affair for me.
    2) Completely get rid of my anglophone accent when speaking French. The closest I've got so far is being asked if I'm (French-speaking) Canadian.
    3) Play the guitar.
    4) Hold Dutch and German language knowledge in my head at the same time. They alternate.
    5) Not read good Christian books. I just can't manage without...
    6) Bake. Well I can bake actually - I love baking - but not without an oven.
    7) Stay sane for long without seeing the sea - or at least a big lake - and hills.

    Seven things I say most often
    1) Cuppa tea?
    2) I was reading {insert Bible book / other book}, and he/she/it said...
    3) You really must read... (Or as many times: "I wish that such&such a book were translated into French.")
    4) 'allo? (Answering the phone in French.)
    5) Salut! (Said when informally greeting a friend AND when right-cheek-kissing to say goodbye.)
    6) Hallo. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
    7) I haven't seen that film.

    Seven books (or series) I love
    1) The Bible. It can't really even be part of a list like this but there we go.
    2) Piper's books: Pleasures of God & Let the Nations be Glad particularly.

    3) C S Lewis, Perelandra and Chronicles of Narnia.
    4) Owen, The Glory of Christ (admittedly only the abridged version so far).
    5) Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings trilogy
    6) Harry Potter series.
    7) Vanhoozer, Is there a meaning in this text? (Taking me over a year to read so far, but worth it.)

    Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)
    1) The Princess Bride
    2) Jean de Florette & Manon des Sources (mustn't only watch the first tho'!)
    3) Au revoir les enfants
    4) Shrek
    5) Top Gun
    6) Shawshank Redemption.
    7) Erm I'm running out... see Seven Things I say most often, #7.

    Seven Songs I listen to the most (at the moment)
    1) Give me Jesus - Ortega
    2) Thy Mercy - John Stocker 1776 (sung by Caedmon's Call - I listen to the whole of their 'In the company of angels' album lots: We delight, Before there was time, God who saves,... - copied them to my mp3 player so they accompany my travelling on the buses, trams & metro in Brussels!)
    3) Mystery of Mercy - Caedmon's Call (from the 'Back Home' album. Which is all good too.)
    4) Who am I? - Casting Crowns (This formed part of my presentation about my Relay year.)
    5) In me - Casting Crowns (and most of the Lifesong album - one of the songs is spoiled by a bit of 'secret rapture' theology!)
    6) In Christ alone - Townend & Getty (& many others by them)
    7) Er, I listen to classical mostly so I'm running out of songs here... Brahms, Tchaik., Rach., Beethoven, Bach, Bruch, Chopin,... nope, no more songs. Though Bach's St John's Passion seriously rocks - does that count as a song?

    Seven people I want to join in too
    I really can't think of anyone who hasn't done this yet! Apart from pg I suppose - I don't even know if your blog is public!

    Tuesday, 17 January 2006

    llamatic frivolity

    If you want a serious thought, skip this post. If you want to split your sides, try this for a song [HT: pg]. Ant posted a link to the JCB song video, which I thought was brilliant - but I'm told that those who were in the UK in the run-up to Christmas are rather sick of it.

    Sunday, 15 January 2006

    Whatever makes you happy

    A few years ago I said to a friend, "I started desiring God but I didn't get very far with it". He liked to quote that back at me out of its original context - which was that of discussing books by John Piper!

    Anyway, I'm now trying again to read Desiring God, though this time it will be harder as I've only got it online. Something struck me from the first chapter:
    "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases" (Psalm 115:3). The implication of this text is that God has the right and power to do whatever makes him happy. That is what it means to say God is sovereign.
    "Whatever makes you happy!" Frequently people recommend that as final arbitor in our individualistic society. That is what we pursue. Why else do we eat what we eat, read what we read, watch what we watch, ... We pursue whatever makes me happy. Is is wrong that we replace pursue whatever makes me happy? Surely Adam & Eve were given the Garden, each other, fruit of any tree but one, etc. etc. and chose each day what would make them happy? It is not pursuit of happiness which is problematic (note however that since the fall this tends to be selfish & at others' expense - but it is not necessarily so). No, what is wrong is that we try to pursue whatever makes me happy independent of God. Instead of walking in the garden with God, being happy in him and in his right to do whatever makes him happy, Adam & Eve wanted to make their own rules for doing whatever would make them happy. Instead of pursuing happiness in God, we pursue happiness in itself. Having rejected the source and rule of happiness, we wonder why we aren't satisfied. In other words, we reject knowing the source of happiness in order to have the right to write our own manuals on "How to be happy". So before I continue reading Desiring God, a quote from Douglas Adams came to mind (come on, Piper & Adams in one post?):
    This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

    Saturday, 14 January 2006

    Thanking God

    I'm praising God that:

    Belgium isn't entirely flat geographically,
    Belgium's public transport system is such that one can easily get 1.5h away from Brussels for just 8.60€ (£5.90) return,
    Marianne and Saskia both were up for joining me when I said, "I'm escaping to the Ardennes for a day/walk!"

    The picture above is of Dinant with one of its forts (see the Belgian flag) and churches (Eastern influence in that spire or what?!). We walked round/through Dinant and surrounding towns, farmsteads, and many fields, passing through several middles of nowhere several times, with after a couple of hours, a full bright orange moon in front and a sunset behind. We started with a picnic sitting on a little pier over the river, bathed in winter sun. We walked where there was still snow (from weeks ago!) We clambered up steep steps following old lines of defence and had much fun when I found a hole in the thick wall which turned out to lead to steps inside the wall which were still 'there' enough to climb up and get on top of the wall with a lovely view down the river. We tried in vain to get our cameras to focus in enough to capture the beauty of relatively huge frost crystals on dead leaves by the path. We met a couple of donkeys who brayed full-chested at us. We met Madonna statuettes in niches in walls :( The walk was wonderfully up & down hills, through villages, woods and fields. It was wonderfully and definitely not Brussels. And after 4 hours we arrived back in the centre of Dinant and were in time to hit a café for hot chocolate before catching the train back.

    <-- Saskia, yours truly & Marianne.

    The wonderful Belgium Language Thing contributed to the taking of this photo. I was about to take it of Sas & Marianne, when a voice behind asked if we would like them to take it with the 3 of us in it instead. I thanked them and hence the photo on the left. It was only as we walked on that Marianne commented that they'd spoken German to us (she being firstly Dutch-speaking found this confusing). I hadn't noticed! I'd heard and responded, but hadn't noticed the language! I love the Belgium Language Thing!

    Thanking God!

    Friday, 13 January 2006

    Newness of life

    You remember my occasionally dying and resurrecting fridge? Well Mr Electrician Man was going round the rooms removing the perfectly good light fittings from our bathrooms and installing new ones (ooh!) so I told him of it. He was distinctly unsurprised that the fridge should occasionally cut power, or that wiggling a plug (of any other appliance) in the socket above could with a bit of skill and ignorance, restore its power. Am I ignorant of electronics, or is this Belgian?? He claims to have fixed it. Nice Mr Electrician Man.

    So there passes the era "Your gospel reminder brought to you today by your very own resurrecting fridge!" (Though I was struggling to get the 'wiggle the unconnected appliance plug in the socket above' bit fitting in...) We have now, I hope, passed into the era of the reminder of the permanence of newness of life.

    Praise the Lord!

    Monday, 9 January 2006

    I have this Thing against Study Bibles

    MacArthur (in this 1998 sermon) recounted an incident which is very encouraging but also, well, more on that after:
    I was flying across the country this week—a long flight—all the way to the east coast and the Lord always makes things serendipitous, always has a surprise or two; I was sitting next to a man who eventually took out a Bible and started reading it and as he was reading it, I said to him, "That’s a Bible you’ve got there." He said, "It is," and I said, "Do you understand what you’re reading?" I thought I’d just play Philip for a while. I said, "Do you understand what you’re reading?" and he said, "Well, some of it. I know one thing: that there are many ways to God." I said, "Keep reading. You’re not done yet." He said, "Well, it’s kind of hard to understand." I said, "Well, would you like to be able to understand the Bible?" and he said, "I really want to be able to understand the Bible — I really do." So, I took out my MacArthur Study Bible and I opened this thing and he said, "This has all the answers!" Anyway, I had the opportunity to expose him to the gospel and I’m going to send him one of those Bibles.
    Praise the Lord for arranging such meetings. Praise the Lord for using John MacArthur to share the gospel with this man. :) It really is great to see how God does that; we've seen it in the international work here in Brussels.

    But my stomach squirmed at one point in this encouraging account: "This [MacArthur Study Bible] has all the answers!" Because [cue confession] I have this Thing against Study Bibles, precisely for the reason that that is the impression that they give: 'You can't understand the Bible by itself - but look we've explained it for you.' So the impression left from MacArthur's account was not so much, "Look how God arranged for his servant to meet someone who wanted to understand the Bible and he could help in telling him of the gospel", but "Look how God arranged for his servant to meet someone who wanted to understand the Bible so he could give him a MacArthur Study Bible so he could understand it, rather than one with just the Bible text."

    Caveats: Yes I do believe that God graciously uses his people to proclaim his gospel to others, and that includes the words that his people have committed to writing in books, commentaries, etc. I'm sure that as he used MacArthur's spoken words setting forth the gospel to this chap, he also used his written words in the Study Bible. No I don't disagree with Peter that some of the Bible is hard to understand. It takes hard work, parts are harder to understand than others and commentaries can be a helpful resource. And for a final caveat, no I'm not being black & white on this: since we use translations which use various manuscripts, it makes sense that most Bibles are printed with some translation and manuscript related notes.

    But I do have an issue with presenting man-made helps as if they were essential to understanding the Bible, which is the record of God's revelation inspired by his Holy Spirit. He inspired all that was necessary to understanding (with the eye-opening work of his Holy Spirit) his gospel savingly. We are not in the time of Philip, when his 'explanatory notes' were God's ordained means of the Ethiopian hearing what was necessary to salvation. We now have the NT to reveal Jesus' fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.

    Having Study Notes in a Bible gives the impression (at least to an unbeliever) that they are essential to understanding the Bible. To a believer, having study notes in a Bible encourages the temptation to look to the helps for understanding rather than prayerfully looking to the text for understanding - it encourages the idea that, "You probably won't be able to understand this bit from the text - here we've explained it for you." This in itself is harmful.

    But what really gets me is that this technique (producing Bibles with integrated study notes) has been used time & time again to propagate false teaching and heresy - or, being most generous, to impose the writer's theological system on the Bible. The Papists use(d) it. The Local Church use it. The JWs use it in the form of their Watchtower notes. The Scofield Bible does it! All these groups have the idea, "You won't be able to understand this properly on its own - but here, we've explained it for you. :)" Otherwise put, "This has all the answers!" Even if notes are good, it is better to teach people how to read the Bible well (one might say simply how to read well) than to hand them 'all the answers'. I want to be able to open my Bible with someone and say, "Forget about using X's notes to see what the Bible says - here, read it yourself", as God gave me opportunity last year with someone who had been studying with JWs.

    I consult commentaries when I need to - see the caveats above. Sproul & co's notes may be great, and I may consult similar at a late stage of Bible study or in general reading. I would avoid thinking that I have all the answers! But I won't use a 'study Bible' as my main Bible.

    Saturday, 7 January 2006

    The gospel in (4) pieces

    From Al Mohler's radio programme - when he interviewed John Piper (& John MacArthur), Piper said the following about what is needed for the gospel to be the gospel and not another gospel. (NB typed from listening to the programme: listen to the whole thing here.) He sets it out clearly in four levels, which I found very helpful.

    Mohler: "(In the US,) Isn't there the danger that some other gospel has infiltrated even what is known as evangelicalism?"

    Piper: "Yes, and it can come either in the form of what you neglect, or it can come in the form of what you affirm wrongly. And there are at least, in my mind, four levels at which you can do both of those. I think the gospel has to be articulated - I mean, it's news, right - gospel means 'good news' so it's news, it's news, it's not ideology, it's news.

    "So the first thing is, it's facts, and you can deny those: Jesus died and he rose again; those are facts, you can deny them, or you can leave them out.

    "The second thing is, when he died and rose, he accomplished something between him and God. He bore sin, he provided a substitute sacrifice, he absorbed wrath. Those things were accomplished and you can deny that or you can affirm that and a lot of people are leaving out that - the whole doctrine of substitution is being elimimated by a lot of people or called 'divine child abuse' by a lot of people today.

    "The third thing is: how do you obtain it? Works or faith alone? Some mingling of what's infused into you or what's imputed to you embraced by faith alone. You can get that all wrong and we are getting it wrong in terms of imputation.

    "And the fourth is (and this is the one I'm caring the most about recently), the goal of all that is to get us to God, to enjoy him. So if we don't finally say the goal of the gospel is not restoration with Mom who's gone before, or everlasting golf, or escape from cancer, or getting out of hell, but fellowship with the living God enjoying him forever, then we're going to lose it.

    "So those are the four pieces that have to be included, I think, to get the news right."

    (HT: Justin Taylor)

    Thursday, 5 January 2006

    Mystery of Mercy

    I am the woman at the well, I am the harlot
    I am the scattered seed that fell along the path
    I am the son that ran away
    And I am the bitter son that stayed

    My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me
    When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King
    My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
    It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing

    I am the angry man who came to stone the lover
    I am the woman there ashamed before the crowd
    I am the leper that gave thanks
    But I am the nine that never came

    My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me
    When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King
    My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
    It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing


    © 2002 New Spring Publishing, Inc. / By Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame.

    I think this is a brilliant song*. It captures the perversity of sin that we are so capable of being both 'sinner' and 'pharisee' - profoundly impure yet judging others, utterly condemned yet condemning others, needing God's grace more than anything and showing no grace to others. How like that I can be even now I know God's grace. It describes how this depravity affected even our professed or felt love for God: all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King. And so it point us to the cross, calling us to wonder at the mercy of God. The Mystery of the Mercy. But not now an obscured mystery: at the cross the mystery of mercy is revealed. It is only because Christ cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" that we can wonder, "My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me?". It's a mystery of mercy and the song I sing.

    [*NB full lyrics can be found here. I don't understand how I can be 'the seed that fell along the path' when Jesus said that the seed was the word of God. I'm sure there's some poetic-theological thing I'm not getting though.]

    We mugs

    About time for a photograph of the Brussels IFES team.

    L-R: Barnaby (English, student), Emily Hay (English, coleader), Saskia (Dutch), Marianne (Dutch), étrangère, Tim Hay (English, coleader). With Luke Hay in front of me and Daniel Hay in Tim's arms.
    In the team there is also Paty (Congolese), who wasn't around at the time of photo.

    A motley crew. The gospel and a passion for its spread among students in Belgium unite us. As Luke Hay said a while ago, "And we can thank God for sending Jesus to die so that we can go to Belgium". [Don't worry, his Mum corrected his theology and assured him that heaven is better than Belgium.]