Friday, 29 June 2007

Quote of the day: comprehending cows

Cows have been featuring more frequently than is normal in the Christian blogging world at the moment. David Field wrote about how God cares for cattle (or mentioned it, in a good post on whether preaching should be aiming to be first past the post). Dave Bish flagged that up in the most recent of his (frequent, but always worth reading!) posts on Jonah. And... oh, ok, I think I was directed by someone else to David Field's article so read that twice. And then a book I was reading directed me to "true comprehension of cows and grass".
Man can understand himself and the creation surrounding him only as he recognizes the Creator-creature distinction revealed there and sees the will of God more clearly through his observation of creation. For example, it is not enough to know that cows eat grass. True comprehension of cows and grass reveals the providential power and care of God and the task which was given to man to subdue every other creature to God's glory (cf. Gen. 1:28). ... As creation cannot exist apart from God, it cannot be silent of God. The more fully one apprehends any fact of the universe, the more it will reveal God and His will to him. - Richard Pratt, Every Thought Captive
So that's the thought for today folks: go forth and ponder cows.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Utopian Dreams

Jones' Utopian Dreams is fascinating. I was expecting it to be a boring, 'I should read this to connect with contemporary thought' sort of book, but he has exceptional insight into our culture and its interaction or engagement with "spirituality" and "religion".

As a non-Christian, Tobias seeks out communities, tired with our individualised world. He finds himself asking the question, "Can a community exist without being religious?" and rather concludes in the negative. However, as he experiences these communities, he becomes more attracted and persuaded by Christian values. Having started admitting that he looked to see not whether the doctrines of the faiths represented were true, wacky or insane, he in fact concludes that Christianity not so much is true because it works, but works because it is true.

With fascinating insight I'd recommend this book - but I'd pray two things for the author. That he'd recognise the true community God is creating not in communes but in a people set aside by his word - not just in submitting to God and thereby experiencing true freedom, as Jones affirms, but in being called out by his Word savingly, and living in his grace. In brief, that he'd discover God's true community in the church being lived out around him.

And secondly, that he would see that it is not only the truth of the teachings and values incarnated by Jesus which make Christianity work. That in fact, he would see that Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life: that He is God's community and we in him. And so that he would experience the grace of resurrection life, and the joy of knowing God the Father, through his Son, by the Spirit at work in us: in true communion with God and each other.

I was directed to this book by a review much more helpful than that above by Damaris' Culturewatch here.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Quote of the day: where to look

I see that when I dwell any time upon myself, and think upon my attainments, my heart is not profited; but, whenever I get a sight of Christ's love, it is full of life then.
- Andrew Bonar (from Diary & Life)

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Null gospels

On my current thoughts of gift, giver, idolatry and the desires of our heart, Bish has flagged another vid of Piper, this time engaging with prosperity gospel in Birmingham. It was Birmingham, Alabama, but this Birmingham of the Brum variety has the cathedral to material prosperity with its god offering happiness and acceptance. It doesn't deliver. It is no gospel. And let us make very sure not to preach it.

I sat in aforementioned materialism cathedral earlier today and meditated on Luke 12.13-34. A good and challenging passage. I've spoken on it evangelistically before, but it has such impact for any heart inclined to the idolatry of worshipping the gift rather than the giver, the created rather than the Creator. Something like this...

Be careful! Guard yourself against all covetousness (for what you don't have; or over-care for what you do have: your life isn't made up of how much you own! You've lost the plot if you gather stuff for yourself and you aren't rich toward God. Don't go chasing after nice clothes, food, drink, seeking after them as if you get your life from them. That's what the pagans do - who don't know that life comes from God. He's your heavenly Father, and knows what you need - so you concentrate on seeking after his kingdom, which isn't a pointless search, either, cos he loves to give it to you. So hold your stuff really lightly - and hold onto God, your treasure in heaven. Whatever you count as your treasure, you'll set your heart on it. And you don't want to have your heart bound up with what'll wear out in a few years!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Fulness of joy

1. 1 John 5 with BUECU small group leaders.
"I write these things to you who believe in the name
of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life."

2. Students in Starbucks. Many coffees & meals with students as they prepare to flee university for the summer, and Starbucks now do Fairtrade coffee (finally... but not tea - still working on that one) - x2 in Brum & one in Leicester with an interesting basement layout. Also patronised were the good ol' Selly Sausage with its marvellous blueberry pancakes, Pizza Express (Aston CU grub crawl!), student houses, my house, and the Bennetts' (which has admitted tea other than Earl Grey). The encouragement of students testifying to growing throughout the year - and a friend of some Aston CU members putting her trust in the Lord for the first time a week ago :D

3. A sunny Saturday afternoon cycling along canal towpaths, followed by an evening listening to Bach's St Matthew's Passion.

4. Heartily piano-ing in worship with church, with everyone praising our Father and our Saviour Jesus Christ. We've been enjoying learning Keith & Stuart's Speak O Lord - a brilliant prayer before hearing God's word preached, which, in new songs I'm teaching, has followed The Power of the Cross which we're deepening appreciation of when celebrating Communion.

5. Hosea with Midlands staff and Tim Rudge. God as the wounded lover & our adulterous hearts which make desires inordinate and thus fashion idols. Our sin is not only judicial but deeply personal. Deeply hurtful, shameful, gut-wrenching. Chs.9-12 pictures of God's people in the past, like a deserted husband mourning over pictures from the wedding album. In punishment also God is being faithful! Yet the question raised: how will this adulterous whore of a people (and us included, in these heart adulteries) become faithful (1.8-11) when divorce would be just? Christ's fulfilment - the faithful people, the true vine (Hos.10), the obedient life - removed the sting of sin & death (Hos.13), so in him we are faithful.

6. The joy of Brahm's violin concerto and Tchaik.4 with Weller conducting the CBSO. Best seats in the house on standby tickets. I wondered if one could have a heart attack from joy. If it could actually burst. The Brahms (Steinbacher) is the first violin concerto I remember hearing in concert, and still thrills me. The Tchaikovsky just makes me want to burst. And reminded me of when we played it on tour in Italy: with the oboe solo rising in the Symphony Hall, I could feel the air of an open air evening concert in Florence in July. The third movement pizzicato is a wonderful playfulness in the violins, respite from the rest of the symphony while still flying the tune with energy. With the wonderful brilliance of the start of the 4th movement I felt the launch of joy of throwing bow, fingers and violin into the music when too épuisée from the previous three movements in late evening heat to feel anything any more. But this was Tchaik 4 as we never played it - Weller's brilliance drew the CBSO into the work as I can't describe. It made me think, 'joy unspeakable and full of glory', which challenged me as my housemate said afterwards - we should be even more engaged with God, as he is so much more than wonderful music. As David said in Psalm 4, in persecutions and troubling times, "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound." I am challenged - do I have more joy in my heart from God than when my Brahms and Tchaikovsky abound? It makes me feel alive. But is an idol not something to which we turn for life, not recognising that it is God who makes us live? (See Hosea 2.2-8.) Oh that I truly and joyfully acknowledge the giver, and may my heart see the glory of the gift reflect to his praise, as it does. Yet I think I need a resurrection body before this following can be fulfilled:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. [Ps. 16]
Fullness of joy in God's presence? Entering into the joy of our Master? I think my heart would break from joy, if it can barely cope now with the dim, shadow-joys of his creation, and knowing him in part. Yet we'll be transformed to be a joy (Isa 65.18)! So the challenge of

7. Psalm 27 -
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
is a challenge for joy. That he would be my highest joy.

Joy in Christ

Piper on 2 Cor 1:24:

[HT: The Daily Mail of blogs ;-)]

Monday, 4 June 2007

Quote of the day: being believable

Many people in that [educated, scientific] world are skeptical about the Christian faith, but they doubt not so much what we believe than our seriouness and integrity in believing it. They tend to think we are hypocrites rather than dupes. What we need in order to make Christian faith credible in the modern world, rather than a faith defined down to a "believable" but not very substantial core [à la Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age], is to show in our lives what we mean by what we say in our special language and practices.

- Michael D. Bush, Christology & the "Y" chromosome, in Unapologetic apologetics.

This comes towards the end of a paper on the virgin conception and naturalistic incredulity. Certainly he doesn't make a blanket statement but notes a tendency. (Please note too that he is not opposing orthodoxy with orthopraxis, as if they could be divided, but saying that rather than downgrading Christian doctrine to what "people find believable", we must practice Christian doctrine to show its belief.)

"They tend to think we are hypocrites rather than dupes." If true, it's interesting. Is not the moral always at the heart and root of the intellectual rejection of truth? Is not the moral always bound up with the intellectual in witness? It was in Eden, it was in Pilate's praetorium, and it continues both in the heart of rejection of Christ's claim of Lordship, and in the evidence for it - the new life he gives, on display in the life of his Church.

The other day a friend expressed to me his frustration at his family's view that he is looking into liberal and philosophical views on Christianity only to find excuses for his heart-rejection of it. He found this judgement offensive. I sympathise: it's rather dismissive, and I suspect, not engaging with the ideas he's looking into. But it made me ponder: I don't think he imagines his rejection of Christianity to be subsequent to his study - he gave different reasons at the time. The insinuation is rather, I suppose, that he's not intellectually honest if his research is subsequent to his prior rejection of faith. Yet for the Christian, the moral and the intellectual are always indivisible, because truth and goodness are indivisible, both defined by God and proceeding from God. Of course his turning to naturalistic theology is bound up with his rejection of Christ. Similarly, my reading of such theology (and any material) is bound up with my faith in Christ! No human activity is morally neutral when performed - it is either from faith, or unbelief. So to say that someone's reading of X is because they have morally pre-decided Y is not a particular slur on them, but a statement of how we all operate, following the desires of our hearts. To put it another way, none of us are intellectually neutral when it comes to morals, or morally neutral when it comes to the intellect.

The atheist may of course object to this Christian outlook and continue to find it offensive. It assumes a Christian worldview which he doesn't share. But that leaves the very real question - why did he find it offensive in the first place? An insinuation of intellectual dishonesty. What's dishonesty to any highly but randomly evolved organism? What's integrity without God? We know we want it - we care about it. But there's no reason on earth why. [Do fire back in the comments, please!]