Friday, 24 September 2010

Looking back - Lausanne II

In the final weeks of preparation for The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, I came across this: John Piper's reflections of 20 years ago, of attending Lausanne II, in Manila. They moved me to tears and reminded me of the impact that congress had on churches, pastors and missions across the world. 

This is not just another evangelical meeting. The impact of Christians from 200 nations sharing the gifts of experience, wisdom, insight and theological understanding Christ has given them, with those from other nations, is weighty.  

We pray it will resound in inspiration and shaping of ministries such as DesiringGod, and thousands lesser known, to the ends of the globe. Not just that more would be busy for Jesus, but that our Lord would use it to hasten his return in glory.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Music as preaching (or vice versa)

As I listened to Christian Tetzlaff's playful and lyrical account of Brahms' violin concerto in the Symphony Hall this evening, I reminisced on the first time I remember hearing it live - Tasmin Little, with the Ulster Orchestra, in the Ulster Hall, Belfast. I recall drifting off in young sleepiness in the over-warm hall during the second movement, and being thrown awake, embarassed, by the launch into the third. I was sitting with my Dad in the balcony stage left, for a good view of the soloist. I enjoyed it then; I enjoyed the performance this evening. Then, in awe of Tasmin Little and the virtuosic beauty of the music, particularly the double-stopping; now, amused by Tetzlaff's youthful quirky treatment of some of the piece, and struck by the musical similarity between the soloist and the conductor, the electrifying Andris Nelsons.

Music, it seems to me, is like a sermon in some respects. I wouldn't say that my recording of the Brahms (Anne Sophie Mutter, I think) is not the Brahms, but it is certainly less than the live performance. There's something about music, and a sermon, which should be embodied. The recording may be perfect - perfect balance, no distance through a concert hall, no coughs or dropped programmes at inappropriate moments, no distraction of an overactively bobbing soprano clarinetist. But it is precisely all those things which are cut out which make it so touchingly human. The music enacted in a different context every time, unique despite being written. So it is with a sermon: the word addressed to a particular time and people, in a context. (και ο λογος σαρξ εγενετο, one might ponder.)

So, also, I appreciated Shostakovich's earthy, jarring and tense search for resolution and hope, post-Nazi invasion of St Petersburg, more than the ethereal disembodied floating of souls through layers of supposed paradise, in part II of Mahler's 8th on Saturday. (Not that this fully characterises either piece - just some parts of each.)

Perhaps a feel for music gives some theological insight - the truth bubbling up to the surface, however hard repressed. The conductor turned before the Shostokovich and gave us a little exposition: the original author's meaning, its application to our day, the eternal truth behind both. 'There is always hope!' he concluded, as we were launched into Shostokovich's Eighth Symphony.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Beatified saints!

Happy Sunday, beatified ones and saints!
'By God's will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.' [Heb.10]
Blessed are all who take refuge in the Son. [Ps.2]

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Dear Benedict

I would not be unecessarily contentious, nor do I dislike you personally, not knowing you personally. A public figure comes in for criticism, and it seems that most of the criticism of your office pertains to your 'presumption' as a celibate man, to speak on matters of sex - especially since you lead an organisation full of sinful people, and impose strictures on them which God's word expressly forbids. It would be better if you were to stay confident only in Christ, fully aware of sin, and offer others Christ alone - no extra rules, no special priesthood, no holy 'father' but the one in heaven.

Indeed, as one wrote to one of your predecessors:
'How much better it would be, [Benedict], if you would abandon the splendour and glory that your enemies claim belongs to your office! ... Do not listen to those sirens that pretend you are not a mere human but some sort of divine being who can command and decide whatever you wish. Things cannot be done this way; you do not have such power. For you are the servant of servants and more than all others you are in a most miserable and dangerous position. Do not be deceived by those who pretend you are lord of the world or who claim that no one can be a Christian unless he or she accepts your authority. Do not listen to those who claim you have power over heaven, hell, and purgatory. ... They are mistaken when they place you above a council and the universal church. They are also mistaken when they give you alone the right to interpret Scripture. Under the protection of your name, they desire only to promote their unchristian teaching in the church. And unfortunately, through them Satan has made much progress, just as he did under those who preceded you in the papacy.

'In summary, do not believe those who exalt you; rather you should believe those who humble you. This is the judgement of God who 'has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly' (Luke 1.52). Observe the great difference between Christ and his 'successors', though they all wish to be regarded as his substitute here on earth. I fear that most of them have viewed themselves as Christ's substitute in an all too real a sense! A person is a substitute only when the superior is absent. If the pope rules and at the same time Christ is not present or is not ruling in his heart, then what else is he but a substitute for Christ? Wha tis the church other than an assembly of people without Christ? And it follows - what is such a substitute other than an antechrist or an idol? Were not the apostles much more right in calling themselves the servants of the present Christ rather than the substitutes of an absent Christ?'
As for a state visit, dear Ratzinger, I am astonished that you let a quirk of history lead you to deny our Master, who said clearly to Rome's representative: 'My Kingdom is not of this world.' So it is not for the sake of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, nor her namesake, that we say with all due respect, 'The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England'; but for the sake of Christ, who is present to rule his Church.

Some complain that we take our current situation and read it back into the gospel accounts. But we cannot duck from their clear application to our day.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." [Matt 23]
As you yourself said, in your opening speech in 2005, 'May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!' I am concerned that those critiquing your visit, and those who will go to 'see the Pope' tomorrow down the road in Longbridge, will not be encouraged to have Christ take first place in their thoughts and actions. Rather, as a money-grabbing flash televangelist denies any grace in his message by his wealth, and as a rock star's words of charity and peace are drowned out by his image and noise, is not anything of Christ replaced by your office, and his finished work substitued by your performance of sacrifice? You have the theological acuity to explain at length why this may not be so - but the crowds will not read your theology: they know what they see.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. ...

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. [Heb 9]
There is more at stake here than contraception, or even grave sin, or the cost of a visit by a State which should not be. For the glory of Christ - 

Yours sincerely,
Rosemary Grier

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Grand Design

The Grand Design - New answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life
[Or 'Old non-answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life']

It hit the headlines with, "'GOD IS DEAD,' says Prof. Hawkins." So is philosophy, apparently: Hawkins wants science to take over. Except that science deals with observation and experimentation, and he's talking about the beginning of the universe, which no scientist observed, and which cannot be repeated in a controlled experiment. So he does do philosophy after all, but badly. 
A: All swans I have seen are white
Therefore (by induction) all swans are white
= the law of this universe is such that swans are white 
The law of this universe makes swans white
Scientific 'laws' are simply induction from observation. In other words, a 'law'of science merely describes what we see. It doesn't do anything, any more than the law of the jungle makes a snake eat a monkey. It describes the usual state of affairs. 

So for Hawkins and Mlodinow to imply that the law of gravity produced the big bang, is a severe category and logical error.

As for the ultimate questions of life... well, you don't get the right answers if you can't think of better questions: 42, anyone? 

For a more informed and detailed review, see Alexander Waugh in The Spectator, or The Economist's review.

A while ago, an Aussie paper reported:
"...not only are other planets likely to exist, but whole other universes, known collectively as the multiverse, are too, says Professor Hawking. If God's intention was to create mankind, then these many untouchable worlds would surely be redundant, he suggests."
Amen - God was not creating the universe just for the sake of man, with a gazillion redundant side projects that didn't quite work out, and one functional planet!
No, the God who communicated himself in Christ in all the Bible made the universe for himself, in an outward explosion of inter-trinitarian love. 'by [Christ]... through him, and for him.' The humanistic god-of-the-gaps we invent to be as man-centred as we are, is dead. Long live Christ, who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

What's so good about the gospel?

When the sun rises and warms the birds, they sing. And so, when our hearts are warmed by being reminded of the love of God, we cannot but speak of Him. The gospel - God giving himself in Christ - really is stupendously good news. 

Mike Reeves on John 20.19-23 (and assorted other passages), from UCCF's Forum conference: download here.