Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Greatest Blessing

This year BCM's Birmingham Convention heard Dr Iain Campbell, of the Isle of Lewis, on the Greatest Blessing:

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (listen via media player or download)
The Love of God (listen)
The Communion of the Holy Spirit (listen)

So far I've listened to the first, which is good, and contained the memorable quotation, 'There's no such thing as grace.' I look forward to hearing the others.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

English - not what God would do

My generation have grown up with English as the global communication language. The French resent it - the history of Africa is marked with what the English saw as colonial expansion and the French perceived as a linguistic war with English. Chinese and Arabic are indeed on the ascendancy - the popular languages to be learned in Sixth Form or university, because of the changing world market. Of living languages, it's still handy to read German, French and Dutch if you read theology, and there are many new computing languages to be learned; and text-spelling to be lamented. But by and large, English is so common as a global language that my generation expects it.

My generation of Brits (and, I imagine, Americans) are horrified when they holiday somewhere and the shopkeepers don't speak English: how will they cope? They never thought to consult a local phrasebook - the days of stumbling through mispronouncing phrases with wild gesticulation in order to get something resembling what you want for lunch, are gone (it's assumed). You want a scientific paper universally recognised? You write it in English. You host an international meeting, run an international business, or are in an International Church in some European city? Rest assured, by international, you mean English-speaking.

It embarasses me. Perhaps I learned it in the world of IFES - that the indigenous principle doesn't mean translating stuff from English, exporting American methods, and having English-speaking international Assemblies. At this point, I can hear no-one protest: nobody seriously plans to feel English-language empirialistic, after all. It just happens, because... it works. It's possible. It's quicker and easier. Similarly, Dewi Hughes wrote about the effects of theological schools teaching in Spanish in Latin America, here.

So the question comes, why bother translating the Bible into so many languages which are spoken by so few people? Perhaps we don't voice the question, but our lives betray that we're thinking it: Why Not Just Teach Everyone English? Listen to a few minutes from Wycliffe, in which the practicalities are really a side-issue. The issue at heart, is what sort of God we portray. Register on the Lausanne Global Conversation website (above) to interact with readers and listeners around the world.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

We don't know the Bible

A few isolated names and stories, but little idea of how it all fits together. That appears to be many people's experience of the Bible - on the basis of which, some have rejected it by default, while others claim to believe it but don't read it. For those who do read it, many evangelicals don't know how to read it apart from making nice phrases into promises or trying to use the characters as examples to follow - or not, as the case may be. 

A new website project, using World Wide Open (like the Lausanne Global Conversation), is due to launch in June, to address this problem: BibleMesh. Using talks, videos & articles to guide through the Bible, it looks rather good! 

They say: 
The Bible is the infallible Word of God and is the central book in the history of Western civilization. The basis of the faith of billions of people around the globe, it has inspired countless works of art, literature, and charity. Yet many people express frustration over their attempts to understand the Bible. They have picked up a smattering of information over the years and know certain parts of God's Word better than others, but they still do not see how the story fits together. And yet, when we open the pages of Scripture, we discover One God, One Book, and One Story. BibleMesh aims to help people understand the big picture as well as important facts of the Bible.
Contributors include Peter Akinola, Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Joshua Harris, Tim Keller, Vaughan Roberts, Phil Ryken and Terry Virgo. You can sign up on the site to be told more - presumably when it launches.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Quote of the Day: A new kind of ending

Dr Jeremy Begbie:
Death, of course, is the reality hovering over everything I've been saying. The ending of all endings. The reality which threatens every hope in a rich ending. The reality which makes us hesitant about hoping for anything too strongly. But this is how God gets our attention. He meets us here, where human false hopes meet their abyss, where all purely human hopes have died.

But from here also, a fresh kind of hope emerges. Three days pass, and the followers of Jesus find themselves with a new kind of hope, in a new kind of ending. Rumours of an empty tomb, and then the man himself, nailmarks in his side & hands, alive, newly alive, more alive than before. What kind of ending can they now look forward to?

Here is an ending we don't create but God gives.
Dr Begbie continues about the ending which breaks in in the middle and transforms. If you care anything for music or theology, watch The Sense of An Ending, below, and hear how the Christian life should be something like playing second violin in the middle of an improvising orchestra. Powerful and informative.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Relationships in the new media age

How is facebook changing your relationships?

How has the internet changed you? If you think it hasn't, you're either reading this post printed out and handed to you by a friend, or you're just not thinking, which means you're in danger of being changed for the worse.

As we use new media and technologies, they don't just make things quicker or easier; they change how we do things, and thus shape who we are and how we live. They shape the nature of relationships, of communication, of community.

How are your friendships different to your parents' friendships? How are your friendships different now to pre-facebook? If you publically post on someone's wall rather than writing a letter, what difference does it make to your relationship?

So how then should we reflect on and engage with these things as church? Neil Powell of City Evangelical, Birmingham, gave a seminar on this for Avenue Community Church in Leicester - and thanks to him and to them, the recording's available. But this isn't just one to idle away a half hour from curiosity: this is one to gather a group of friends to listen to, discuss, and help each other apply. Relationships in the New Media Age.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A note of thankfulness

I could watch Andris Nelsons conduct the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in a nursery rhyme tune, and still be on the edge of my seat. Even at the top of the extremely large Symphony Hall. Their combination is electric. The Symphony Hall acoustics are such that I have enjoyed every nuance and harmonic line of the two symphony orchestra, two choir, four bands & one megaphone piece Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution (Prokofiev), yet when the pianist this evening gave us a delicate solo encore, up in the gods we could hear each note crystal clear, its touch and tone intimate.

A slight aside: Lars Vogt gave the most beautifully sensitive performance of Beethoven's 4th piano concerto I've heard in a long time. The most beautiful live piano performance I've heard in a long time, actually. (Which also reaffirmed my belief in Beethoven as genius supreme.)

I'm so grateful for music, the CBSO & Nelsons and living in Birmingham at the moment. Just needed to express it. The singing in my soul from this evening's concert would have had me walzing through Centenary Square, leading Chamberlain Place in a group musical number down the steps and around the fountain, and tap dancing through New Street station. As it was (this being England), I limited myself to a few skips along the way, and scared other pedestrians by smiling too much.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Waste your life!

If the gospel weren't true, would my life have been wasted?

Or in other words, do I live as if the gospel is true?

That the ever-looming horizon is that Jesus is coming back as judge and to save those who are looking forward to his return?
That love takes risks, because we have a Father in heaven who doesn't?
That the worst that can happen is they'll kill you, and that's no loss for the glory of Jesus?

Do others now think that my decisions and attitudes are crazy, because they think the gospel isn't true?
Or do my decisions and attitudes make sense, even to those who don't believe that Jesus is Lord and that I have died and been raised in Him?

If the gospel weren't true, would my life have been wasted?

Friday, 7 May 2010

Having a bad day?

Despondent about the election? Family strife? Everything go wrong in work? Car knock you off your bike on the way home?

What to you do with a bad day?

Take it out on others? Drink to forget?
Moan to friends? Comfort eat? Bish has some better Seven things to do with a Bad Day.

The glory of the ordinary

Have you learned to be ordinary? A church-loving, week in, week out, living for Jesus, plodding by the Spirit, sowing the Word, ordinary believer? It's really rather good, rich and free, but first we've got to get over our revolutionary anti-tradition, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional thing.
Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v.14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. [Read more.]
So what's so glorious about the ordinary? Is this a call to daily boredom? No - but to faithful fire rather than flash in the pan. Excellent post by Kevin DeYoung to our generation: The Glory of Plodding.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Something to sing about!

O how the grace of God amazes me!
It loosed me from my bonds and set me free!
What made it happen so?
His own will, this much I know,
set me, as now I show,
at liberty.

My God has chosen me, though one of nought,
To sit beside my King in heaven’s court.
Hear what my Lord has done:
O, the love that made him run
to meet his erring son!
This has God wrought.

Not for my righteousness, for I have none,
but for his mercy’s sake, Jesus, God’s Son,
suffered on Calvary’s tree -
crucified with thieves was he -
great was His grace to me,
his wayward one.

And when I think of how, at Calvary,
he bore sin’s penalty instead of me,
amazed, I wonder why
he, the sinless One, should die
for one so vile as I:
my Saviour he!

Now all my heart’s desire is to abide
in Him, my Saviour dear, in Him to hide.
My shield and buckler he,
covering and protecting me:
from Satan’s darts I’ll be
safe at his side.

Lord Jesus, hear my prayer, your grace impart;
when evil thoughts arise through Satan’s art,
O, drive them all away
and my God, from day to day,
keep me beneath your sway,
King of my heart.

Come now, the whole of me, eyes, ears and voice,
join me, creation all, with joyful noise:
praise Him who broke the chain
holding me in sin’s domain,
and set me free again!
Sing and rejoice!

Emmanuel Sibomana, c.1910-75
Translated by Rosemary Guillebaud