Wednesday, 26 April 2006

It being dead yet speaketh

Today when I was talking with the postman, he asked if I was French. French? Woohoo! He thought my accent was French! [At this I'm rather incredulous, but very happy anyway.] But on to more important things...

The computer fixing man phoned yesterday, to check that he'd located the documents etc. that I wanted recovered from my late laptop. '...Word documents, and many, many sermons?' he said. 'En fait,' he said, 'ce sont toutes des choses spirituelles?' 'Euh, oui, c'est ça !' I said. Everything 'spiritual'. My computer being dead yet speaketh!

He'd seemed particularly struck by the presence of sermon audio files, and it made me wonder - how did he recognise them as sermons, given that he doesn't seem to speak English? Perhaps he was intrigued and listened to one a bit. I started praying that he'd listen to more if he did understand English, and/or just ask me about it when I went today to pick up the corpse of the computer.

Today when I went, he mentioned the sermon audios again, then asked me what church I went to, took down the address, directions and service times, saying, 'J'y passerai' - I'll stop by. Then he asked about the GBU - 'I saw you had some things about GBU on your computer'. Turns out he was a GBU leader in Tunisia as a student. Our next GBU Focus meeting is an evening with General Secretaries from francophone GBU movements - from Africa and Europe! 'J'y passerai', he said again!

Well, what did I expect - God loves doing things like that. When the computer first went into a coma, PM commented in rhyme, "...we're asking, Lord,plz wake zis sleeping laptop,so eet can spread your word." It seems that God can spread his word quite well through a dead laptop. Amen.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Did God risk the cross?

Following on from my post 'Does God risk public transport?', below, and a second comment worth treating.

It was the following: ("For the sake of argument" - ta Troy!)
God took a risk at the cross in that every one for whom Christ died has the option of rejecting the gift.

Now risk requires that the outcome of a situation be in question. Risk requires a lack of knowledge. Of course, God knows all, so it cannot really be called a risk. Our Lord knew the cost of everyone's sin and paid it "once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous..."
While I appreciate the conclusion, I question the premise, because I believe Scripture teaches both that each person who hears the gospel is responsable for accepting or rejecting it, AND that those for whom Christ died will not reject it. In other words, God didn't leave the effective extent of Christ's death in question. I'll make 4 points to back this up (sorry, no alliteration!)

1) God appoints who rejects and who believes in Christ. Take as one example Acts 13.48 (since I was reading Acts this afternoon!) - "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." If God had paid the right price but then left the effect up to each individual's self-determination, then this verse would read, "...and as many who believed were appointed to eternal life." But no - some were already appointed to eternal life so they believed, they were already 'of God's fold' so they had been brought also and had heard his voice (Jn 10.14-16), they had already been God's 'people in that city' (Acts 18.10), etc. God's plan to manifest his wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places cannot be frustrated by someone for whom Christ died rejecting him; someone for whom Christ died, taking the wrath of the Father in their place, has this applied to them by the plan of Triune God by the Spirit and so believes in Christ. (For example, together with John 10, see John 6.60-65.) This honours God who chooses so that no-one may boast!

2) God will bring those from every language, tribe and tongue. But how can he promise that this will happen if each one for whom Christ died can in fact 'reject the gift'? Do we imagine then that he has some special and vague way of wangling it with certain people just so that one person from each tribe is persuaded, while letting others 'for whom Christ died' reject Christ? No, either he is in control and will bring those for whom Christ died, or he is not and his purpose for the world could fail! Yet that is completely against the counsel of Scripture (for just one eg, Ps 22.27-28).

3) If God took a risk of sorts in the cross in that 'every one for whom Christ died has the option of rejecting the gift', then we are left with a God who is not just. Christ died to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God (Rom 3.19-26, Eph 2.16). As the substitute of those for whom he died, Christ bore God's wrath for, and wiped away the sin of, those for whom he died. Now if some of those may reject Christ after all, then we have a situation in which God's wrath is coming on those for whom God's wrath has already been poured out on Christ - spent on Christ! Will God punish twice this disobedience?? Then he is not just. But you say, 'God's wrath falls on them for their rejection of his Son, not for the sins already punished.' No, but Scripture speaks of punishment in hell for sins committed (Eph 5.3-6, Col 3.5-8) - it has no notion of them having been all-but-one wiped out.

4) Jesus said the reason why some reject him - it is because they are not part of the flock for which he died. It is not that they were ones for whom Christ died yet were able to reject him. Jesus said (Jn 10.14-15,26-27), "I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give to them eternal life..." He died for his flock, they hear his voice, they follow him. Those who don't believe reject him because they aren't in his sheep; he didn't lay down his life for them.

Of course, this does not reduce the responsability the Scripture gives us to repent and believe, but it means that God did not take a risk at the cross, he's not taking a risk with world mission, and he's not taking a risk with our santification.
For those whom he foreknew [eg Gen 18.19 - é] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those who he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
No, God did not take a risk in the cross. He trinitarianly and perfectly effectively planned it, executed it and applies it. A lui la gloire !

What wisdom once devised the plan?

At Mons yesterday evening, we rejoiced in the gospel. There were only 4 of us there at the GBU meeting: me, the group leader (who leaves for an Erasmus year next year), the most faithful group member after her (who probably also leaves, due to moving house & uni) and a fairly new member (from an RC background). It would've been good to have more of us there to rejoice in the gospel, but it was génial as it was!

It was supposed to be another of our studies in Luke, and to be led by a guy whom I'd helped prepare it before Easter. It was all planned: this week a study, next week an end-of-year prayer & praise (and I'd asked to also go through '2 ways to live' with them), and the final week before exams to be a social. I'm not great at thinking outside of a plan - I tend rather to beat myself up about stuff in hindsight! Yet yesterday afternoon, a thought sprang to mind: What if X forgets to bring his notes to lead the Bible study? And a second thought sprung to mind: Well, then that would be perfect for doing '2 ways to live' with them - I'd better prepare it in case. I had just the time necessary to prepare to study through various Bible passages for 2 ways to live, and to look up a few key expressions in French to ensure good communication, before catching the bus/metro/train for Mons. And sure enough, the guy with the study hadn't been able to come. Praise God for prompting me to prepare 2W2L!

We studied through it and rejoiced in the gospel. Then I played the sceptic and plied them with questions to help them grasp it more and see how to use it as a framework tool in evangelism. We were struck again by the truth and power of the gospel. It gave our RC member a chance to ask, "I know Jesus' death means we can be forgiven, but I don't actually understand why?" What a JOY to explain to him and to see him grasping that in Jesus all our sin is already completely punished and paid for, that God looks on us as if we were Jesus and cannot punish our sin again - he is just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Ah, quelle joie, quelle grâce! And to see him eagerly asking questions related to what he'd read, and wanting to know the answers from Scripture :)

Praise God then to hear them praying about the gospel and that they would use the knowledge of 2W2L in chatting with their friends.

Praise God for giving me the privilege of doing what I love (and in French, which flowed particularly yesterday evening) - teaching students the gospel by leading them through Scripture and seeing them grasp it by the gracious power of the Holy Spirit, and respond in joyful worship and a desire to share it.

Praise our gracious and sovereign God!

What wisdom once devised the plan where all our sin and pride
was placed upon the perfect Lamb, who suffered, bled and died?
The wisdom of a Sovereign God whose greatness will be shown,
when those who crucified Your Son rejoice around Your throne.

And oh the glory of the cross,
that You would send Your Son for us.
I gladly count my life as loss,
that I might come to know the glory of the cross.

What righteousness was there revealed that sets the guilty free,
that justifies ungodly men and calls the filthy clean?
A righteousness that proved to all Your justice has been met,
and holy wrath is satisfied through one atoning death.

What mercy now has been proclaimed, for those who would believe -
a love incomprehensible, our minds could not conceive?
A mercy that forgives my sin then makes me like Your Son,
and now I'm loved forevermore because of what You've done.

(c) Bob Kauflin 2000 PDI Praise (BMI)

Monday, 24 April 2006

Did God risk man?

Some great comments on the 'Does God risk public transport?' post below seemed to be worth a couple of posts in reply (i.e. my reply got way too long for a comment).

The first was quoting C S Lewis:
CSL spoke of God taking a 'risk' in creating man, a free being who could rebel against Him:

Man is 'the "weak spot" in the very nature of creation, the risk
which God apparently thinks worth taking' (Problem of Pain)
So did God take a risk in creating man? From a human perspective this is understandable. With us, what God did was a risk - we think that God stood to 'lose out'.

But this ignores 2 aspects of God's sovereignty.

The first is briefly that he is sovereignly and powerfully free to work all things to good: to his glory, so he was never going to 'lose out' even if it was a risk by any other estimation.

The second is to question if it could have been a 'risk' anyway. Without wishing to attribute more to CSL than he intended, or to play semantic games, as Troy said in his comment, "...risk requires that the outcome of a situation be in question. Risk requires a lack of knowledge. Of course, God knows all, so it cannot really be called a risk." A risk is a risk because we don't know the outcome. It could be good and we gain; we could lose out. God knew the outcome. He knew the humans he made as the pinacle of his creation would fall - we know this because he had already planned to give his Son and his Son had already agreed to it from all eternity, before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1.20), and moreover the Father had in him chosen the church before the foundation of the world (Eph 1.4). He knew that it would, as it were, look like he was losing, but would work all things to the glory of his grace in the end - thereby showing not only his eternal power and divine nature in creation but his manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, through his redeemed people. That is mindboggling and one can imagine the angels being agape at the temporary apparent 'losing out', but it's not risk: God wasn't hanging around to see which way it would go of various possibilities to which he would respond differently. He was planning and bringing everything about for his glory (See also Amos 3.6, Gen 50.20.)

God didn't take a risk in creating man. An omniscient and omnipotent God cannot take risks.

Parenthetically, just in case someone chokes on having the words 'omnipotent God cannot' in any sentence, allow me to quote CSL's Problem of Pain! On the subject of 'Can God make a rock big enough so that he cannot lift it?':
"You may ascribe miracles to him but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power... You have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two words "God can." It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God that for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

Thanksgiving for a computer

I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the electronic 'life' of my late laptop.

In September it was given to me generously by a friend in church so that I could take it to use here in Brussels, and it was invaluable for keeping me enjoying music CDs, in touch with students here (email), family (Skype), friends and supporters (email, blogs & msn) and the outside world (BBC news, blogs), for downloading sermons (Piper on Hebrews), for admin (prayer letters, keeping tag of my time and money, online banking), prep for French class each week (online Belgian newspaper meaning I didn't have to buy one) and general info (Brussels public transport system, cinema info, travel info for getting to England, etc.)

Although it coughed and choked (froze and needed to be forcefully turned off) every now and again, these periods got increasingly frequent and violent until on Monday 13th March, when I got back from Mons GBU meeting, I found it had slipped into a coma. The light turned on, the HDD could be heard turning a little, but no sign of life on the screen. Nor when it was connected to a different monitor. At one point I had 3 computer buffs in my room all staring at it... each looking just as blank as the screen itself.

And now the computer doctor (read 'man in laptop shop') has uttered those sad words: 'Votre ordinateur est complètement foutu.' All he can do is retrieve the files I had saved in My Documents.

So, thank God for the gift of the laptop and the blessing it was.

Thank God also that at the time when it went into a coma, a new housemate moved into the studio in the basement who wanted to share the internet connection in my room, so found out about my comatose laptop and lent me an ancient spare one of his. It doesn't do internet, but for admin and typing emails / blog entries in advance it's fine, if a bit stiff in the keys, and it plays CDs (listening to Kreisler's Schön Rosmarin as I type this!) so thank God for that :) And this timing also means that although I have a year contract for the internet connection which I'm not using, from the moment the laptop died 2 guys in the house started sharing the internet connection (my room being the only one with a phoneline) so they'll pay - God is truly good at working these things out.

"And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you have need of them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." [Luke 12.29-34]

Saturday, 22 April 2006

Does God risk public transport?

STIB - the public transport system in Brussels, comprising bus, tram, metro and in-Brussels trains. Efficient, cheap and comprehensive, one never has to walk more than 10 minutes to anything, if you so want - only held up briefly by an occasional tram-car smash when a typical Brussels driver tries to dash across in front of a tram at a junction. If you don't have an abonnement, you buy a Jump card, which you swipe in the machine in each transport, with one line (=1€) lasting 1h. I was chatting with a student who was saying how you could get away without swiping it most of the time, and I was having a hard time communicating the concept of doing what's right rather than what you can get away with.

"No-one notices!" he said, finally, so in desperation I lost all attempt at sophisticated explination and Sunday School-like said, "God notices!" He suggested that God would hardly mind that I'd not swiped the STIB card for a tram journey of a few stops! "God's perfectly just," I said. "But he takes risks," came the reply. [Ah, now here we have a God made in our image, as did the Greeks and Romans more obviously before us.] "No, God does not take risks." "But yes," he rejoined, "he took a great risk in dying for us! He tried it and perhaps it would work..." While delighting in our non-Christian friend's understanding that Jesus was God and that his death was on our behalf, I had to disagree. Because what he said is far from what God has revealed in the Bible, and an image of God which is far from who he is.

Implicationally, if God was taking a risk in giving Jesus on our behalf, then I have no security in salvation or in life. If God took a risk, God is not sovereign and there is no security in anything, no sure salvation to be finally completed at Christ's return, no sure return of Christ, no surety of sanctification that God will triumph over my sinfulness to make me like Christ, no certainty that the church will be presented pure and spotless to Christ, no reason to think that God will manage through his weak, sinful church to gather from every people, tribe and language, redeemed people to himself.

So I pointed out that Peter when addressing his fellow Jews says that they killed the Messiah according to God's exact plan, and that Jesus when predicting his death didn't just say, "I will die and then I hope that maybe it'll work out and that I'll come back to life." No, he said, "I will die and in 3 days I will rise again." It was at great cost that Jesus died, but not at great risk. God was in control: just as he's in control of all things.

My friend repeated, "He's in control of all things?!" "Yes," I replied. I wondered whether next would come a question about the tsunami, or the bombings in London, or the recent stabbing to death of a 17 year old in a Brussels station, for his mobile phone. My friend said, "So God's in control of STIB?!?" I confess I hesitated a minisecond - "Oui!"

It's something we shy away from - God in control of a bus, a late tram, a smooth metro system, a double decker train - but it's true and it's that on which our faith rests.

Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth... [Ps 135.6]
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. [Ps 115.1-3]
Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, 'My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose',... [Isa 46.8-10]

Friday, 21 April 2006

Why carbon monoxide kills

"Not because it is poisonous, since carbon monoxide is not poisonous. It kills because it occupies the space where oxygen is supposed to be. And without the oxygen we die." See the post at reformation21

Saturday, 15 April 2006

This is man

Man is the creature who builds himself such vast and artificial community dwellings that he cannot see the stars in the sky, and then builds himself a tower with a telescope so that he can see the stars in the sky.

Man is the creature who becomes jealous of his neighbour's tower and builds one taller.

Man is the creature who cannot see the sky for the towers.

Friday, 14 April 2006

Singing Good Friday

Lord, you're calling me to come
and behold the wondrous cross.
To explore the depths of grace
that came to me at such a cost.
Where your boundless love conquered my boundless sin,
and mercy's arms were opened wide.

My heart is filled with a thousand songs,
proclaiming the glories of Calvary.
With every breath, Lord how I long
To sing of Jesus who died for me.
Lord take me deeper into the glories of Calvary.

Sinners find eternal joy
in the triumph of your wounds.
By our Saviour's crimson flow,
holy wrath has been removed.
And your saints below join with your saints above,
rejoicing in the Risen Lamb.

(c) Steve & Vikki Cook 2003 PDI Worship

Chanter le vendredi saint

Quel sauveur marveilleux je possède !
Il s'est sacrifié pour moi,
et sa vie innocente, il cède
Pour mourir sur l'infâme bois.

Attaché à la croix pour moi,
Attaché à la croix pour moi,
Il a pris mon péché,
Il m'a délivré.
Attaché à la croix pour moi.

Il renonce à la gloire celeste
Pour le plan rédempteur de Dieu.
Son apparence est la plus modeste,
O quel prix pour me rendre heureux !

Maltraité, innocent, pour ma vie,
Pour mes iniquités, brisé,
Et chargé de mes maladies,
Il mourut pour guérir, sauver.

Le salut accompli pour ses frères
Mon Sauveur se rendit au ciel.
Il revient ! O profond mystère,
Mon bonheur sera éternel.

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Somewhat akin to eating cheese?

Don't read a review of NTWright before you go to bed. Not if your main task the next day is to study a Pauline epistle anyway.

I had set myself to Colossians. Sometime after I'd noted/marked themes and repeated ideas, Tchaikovsky's 1812 thundered to a conclusion from my (borrowed, ancient) laptop, leaving the sound of silence to fill the room. Dangerous. First of all I got distracted pondering why Paul calls Jesus 'Christ' almost every time throughout Colossians whereas in other letters he uses 'Jesus Christ/Christ Jesus' and in others a fairly good mixture of combinations of the words of Lord, Jesus and Christ. Having concluded from flicking through that there was no logical division I could see immediately to be made between those contexts in which one and another were used, I turned back to Colossians. I managed to further note some of the main arguments (the enthralling Spot the Conjunctions game) and applications being made (Spot the therefore/so + imperative) before, having noticed the argument to do with dying, being raised and living in Christ, my mind went off on one, and these scribblings appeared at the bottom of the page where I was making notes on Colossians:

Living in a metanarrative: covenantal (relational - God-centred; consequential)
Escatological, social, moral, cosmic (implications, hopes)
All realised focally in the Christ event: revealed as the interpretative lens: in Christ
We live this metanarrative in Christ
That is the interpretative framework because it is the realised framework: Christ's death and resurrection, according to the Scriptures, for our sins. That is the gospel. Not just his death but his death and resurrection, not just a philosophy of life but bound up in historical events; according to the Scriptures: not an invented interpretation of the death and resurrection, they come in context as the focal point / realisational point of the metanarrative; for our sins: without the substitution the death and resurrection do no good 'for us': we must be in Christ to live in his story, in him, in his death and resurrection, as he took our death...

I blame NT.

And back to Colossians.

Monday, 3 April 2006


Katy was sleeping fitfully, one arm flung across the bedclothes and one curled around a rather squashed elephant (missing one ear) up to her mouth, where her thumb had snuck in when her 'I'm a big girl' mind wasn't paying too much attention. She murmured a little in the summer heat and turned over. The bedroom door, standing at the top of the stairs, was open so her parents could hear her, and the dimmed landing light cast a warm glow into her room across the polished floorboards and onto the thick rug half-under the bed, only pausing on the way to show the walls as papered in what must in daylight be a pale blue shade with light patterning. Katy whimpered and woke up. She didn't know why, but in her sleepy five year old mind she knew one thing, and started to cry. She paused every so often to listen, tracking the familiar sounds between her cries: the brief sound of talking on TV as the living room door opened and then shut again ("I want my Mummy!" she articulated, to ensure she got the right adult), leaving only a murmur of BBC intonation, the click of the hall lightswitch and then the creak of the third stair from the bottom ("Mummy!" she whimpered inbetween her crying, for extra certainty). Tossed in bed and looking across a (now rather flattened) Elephant into the room, she watched, still whimpering, as a reassuring shadow began to appear on her floorboards and grow across it, until it was fully adult shadow sized, and more-or-less Mum-shaped, although distorted a bit where the rug was. The lightswitch clicked on and there was Mum: success!
Katy burst into a loud wailing. Through sobs and blubbering, she yelled (as only an sleepy, hot and agrieved five year old can), "I want your shadow!"

Further reading:
Hebrews 8,
Piper on Hebrews 8.1-5 (script) (mp3)
and on Hebrews 8.6-13 (script) (mp3)