Friday, 29 April 2011

Wedding prep

The royal wedding was beautiful. It brought an unexpected tear to my eye as I was reminded of the greater future wedding of the once and future King, when every eye will see him. (Broadcast entirely funded by the Father, freeview.) 

The guest list is set, though we're still waiting for everyone to arrive - coming from far more countries than the Commonwealth. It's all been catered for. The choir's booked, the anthem written, and the processional fanfare has some marvellous words. People have been lining the streets waiting for a long time. It's no secret what we'll be wearing - it's been provided by the Father of the groom!

I was so disappointed that the sermon at William and Catherine's wedding contained so much truth, but didn't point to Christ. It began well: 'You have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God, who so loved the world, that he gave himself to us in his Son.' But the general sentiment of the address seemed to be that with God's help we all evolve spiritually into the creation of the better world to which we look forward. The speaker missed why we need a self-giving God - not just as an example for marriage, but that we can't bring about a better world with just a bit of divine help. That's why Jesus died, rose and is coming again.
Hint: you know there's something skewed about a wedding address if Jesus' redemption of his bride, 
and return to consummate his new creation, is lacking. (Actually, you know there's a lot wrong with any Christian sermon if Jesus and his finished redeeming work is conspicuously absent.) 

We had the good of marriage upheld, but none of the beauty of Christ, and there's something very wrong about that. 
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. [Eph.5.25-33]
For the good of the married couple; for the blessing of every one of the x million listeners, viewers and those attending; they should have been told that it's not ultimately about them. 
  • That although this day is for celebrating their union, it points to the union of Christ and his bride. 
  • That although Prince William is, we trust, a future king, he is eclipsed in every way by the King of kings, Jesus. 
  • That while Catherine was beautifully radiant in her dress, the betrothed of Christ is going to be spotless and peerless. 
  • They have vowed to be united, 'Until death us do part,' yet there is a greater promise, which defeated death. 
  • While they are caught up into each other's presence, the royal family, and the palace, there is a better presence, a greater family, and a palace beyond all imagining. 
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” [Rev.21.1-4]
The crowds lining the roads merely to cheer, indicated how much we want to participate in such a glorious event. Far more can we look forward to participating gloriously in the Wedding of all history. Just make sure you don't ignore, forget or slight the invitation - or think you can get in on your own merits.

With words of Luther: 
Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, "If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine," as it is written, "My beloved is mine, and I am his" (Cant. ii. 16).

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

'Please do not join our church'

'Please do not smile at strangers' - a sign posted by artists in the same style as the standard instructional signage on the subway - from the original blog. [HT: 22 Words]

So with points mostly from, this is my whimsical take [not official from my church, of course] -

(If, however, you are re-born into the church, need to 'come home' to church, were born to someone in the church, or move to join our mission in Bournville with the blessing of your current church, then, welcome!)

[HT: Sammy Davies]

Monday, 25 April 2011

Quote of the day: Sad becoming untrue

'Is everything sad going to become untrue?' - Sam Gamgee to Gandalf, Lord of the Rings (Tolkein). Justin Taylor gives just a few lines to ponder, over Between Two Worlds. [Worth reading & pondering.]

Which also goes some way to explain why I can never conjure up despondent sadness for Good Friday, because that first Easter Sunday not only was the great gong sounding the candance of God's plan; it actually made Friday good.

Dan Blanche summarised it this Easter, too:
To treat Easter as a myth is to see the passage from Good Friday to Easter Sunday as a sort of re-enactment. In my case, it meant trying to find the right emotional response for each day: remorse passing into grief passing into joy. I suppose acting as if my participation made it real.

Easter is history. It happened once and for all. So, this weekend I will be remembering and celebrating, not re-enacting. 
We always remember the cross from this side of the resurrection. Of course that doesn't stop us engaging with different emotions as we remember different events, but it all happens within the bracket of 'Christ is risen', and therefore is not really mourning...
As better messengers said, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, when he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.'

After all, even the act of remembrance which Jesus instituted, was a forward-looking one: we proclaim his death until he comes again.

Friday, 22 April 2011


If we knew no frustration,
tied to decay in farce of autonomy
a universal word of condemnation
apple falling, stars collapsing
in on themselves
more than Newton knew
heart retracting, stony, cold
on downward course whose light is but the spark of friction;

If tongues joined in with burning orbs in chorus:
but our base noise has toned us deaf to tune,
we hide our eyes beneath blanket orange glow
shaded by our own reflection
and blind, pass buck to Orion's piercing beams.
So aberration, blot in soundscape
Man, of all things made like Word
stand vertically

If we stuck no fingers
in our ears, at Death
- children, pretending
that what they hide their eyes from, isn't there,
if could un-man ourselves, mere brutes
kill Psyche
in a fit of suicide
- homo sapiens (self-adjudged) - thus sine science
deny our soul's here now
that god may die hereafter: with effect;

Then it were no news
that God died there and then
that homo ruined edifice dei, might live again.
Then no good that stone forced back
spilt tuning power to stone in ground and sky and heart to sing.
Then no good news that first fruit risen
ascended, radiant breathing new dynamic
before whom all must fall.

Lest you burn, hide in the Sun.

- RG

Le lever du soleil
Francis Méan © 2006

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Spring in Glass Houses

Extracts from 'An Easter Essay: On spring-cleaning, the breaking dawn and why terrorising chocolate bunnies is justifiable.' (I wish I'd written this essay, but am glad someone else did!)

'Whilst they have been off fighting Christmas, Easter's been left to lope into obscurity. Christians are outraged at the inconsistent noise of Christmas but silent at the absence of Easter. Is it just not important enough? Is the death and resurrection of Jesus really just an average affair? ... Easter is a mediocre affair and nobody protests.'

'This Easter God is defined not by absence, irrelevance or obscurity but by presence. In humanity, He stretched out his arms of love, dying for us on an execution tree.'
'It is time for this Easter to be brought out of exile and given a spring clean. We rebel against its fading significance and terrorise the chocolate bunnies that hide it. We simply announce that Easter is utterly relevant. And with unrelenting optimism celebrate that right in our midst Jesus is Lord!'

[From Spring in Glass Houses]

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Man born to be King

Dorothy Sayers' radio plays on the life of Christ, are currently being played on BBC radio 4 extra - an interpretation of the Scriptural gospels, a creative account. I don't really know why it was so controversial when first broadcast; I'm delighted to hear something so strongly based on the Biblical narrative. 

Herod: 'You cannot rule men by love. When you find your King, tell him so. Only three things will govern a people: fear, and greed, and the promise of security. ... Wherever I love, I find treachery. Love is a traitor, it betrays all kings. It will betray your Christ.'

The first episode is available until Tuesday 26th April: Kings in Judea.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

What's in a name?

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

I think our mind association is stronger than that. 'Rose' evokes so many things that we have no only a scent but an atmosphere, feelings, people, the breeze through the hills of the last rose garden visited, the anticipation of a roast dinner as we sit with friends in a garden after church.

I've been thinking of words and names, and how they not only communicate concepts, but at best, evoke whole pictures, feelings and associations.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Life in the old dog yet

British 'evangelicalism', that is. At a great houseparty on Saturday night, I reflected with friends on the merits or otherwise of the Alternative Vote and tactical voting; with a new student acquaintance on the Cathars and what we can learn from heretics; and with an old colleague on 'evangelicalism' and how US & UK are two nations divided by a common language. 

On which third point: I'm disturbed by how our US brothers of 'reformed' stripe, dismiss evangelicalism wholesale as if they weren't a part of it. It seems that across the pond, evangelicalism is marked by Finney, revivalism, spiritual/conversion experience, pragmatism, fervour, and some morals & politics thrown in. Thus the 'reformed' want to distance themselves from 'evangelicalism'. In the old country, we would use 'evangelical' to refer to shared belief in core doctrines on which basis there is unity, while not blurring lines of church affiliation or the importance of ecclesiology and doctrine. Thus the concept of 'reformed' distinct from 'evangelical' is a strange one.

Now inevitably, there is some bleed-through, as we send good preachers over there, and get some books and music in return (of varying quality and great quantity), and also because we're all sinful, prone to error and what our itching ears want to hear. And I wonder how much of our difference in terminology simply shows national characteristic (this Brit imagines American friends as more pragmatic, bipartisan and fervent about most things; apply such epithets backwards to critique Brits if you will). But I also ponder whether dismissing 'evangelicalism' wholesale and proposing reformed is such a helpful response even if amorphous American evangelicalism were as bad as is reported. The 'reformed' content themselves that they're 'OK', nothing to learn, because 'they're not in that lot' which has so clearly lost protestant truth. I suggest they'd miss out on something of the missions fervour. And the evangelicals hear stricture and don't see anything better held out in love. And miss out on the ecclesiology, and indeed, the doctrines of grace.

I'm not for self-flagellating, nor for mutual gushing Dale Winton-like, but perhaps if we were to consider that there may be a plank in our eye too, we could get close enough to a brother to pull out the speck so painfully blinding him.

Anyway, Carl Trueman enjoyed something of British evangelicalism in north Wales last week, and writes of it to encourage us all. Hoorah!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Quote of the day: passionate voices

This little man in dirty clothes, surrounded by fishermen and whores – if he is the Son of David who has come to deliver God’s people, then God help us all: he could not raise an army if he tried. God bless this man indeed, he is destined for the cross: listen to me – the words of this song will be the pathway to his grave and the crowd that loves him now will run from him as soon as they see he offers them nothing that they want. 
[Read more, by Andy Shudall]

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Wedding season

My housemate's away for one; I'm aware of others having one today, and next weekend I'll enjoy witnessing another. Happily, the younger royals are getting in on the act, too. Yes, it's the season of weddings again - a joy to celebrate with friends. No need to feel left out, though: the best marriage in the universe is on offer to you, the one to which all the others just point. The one which will last beyond the sunset at the end of the film, and indeed, beyond the most lasting of these temporary marriages, because they can only be 'til death part us. For this marriage, the Bridegroom defeated death... so made an eternal promise. 

The engagement ring came with these words: 
And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
As the guests gather for weddings now, it's not The Big Day. That's yet to come. [So keep saving for it, so you're ready.] Really, you're seeing a beautiful temporary picture of the Big Day.  
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.
So the wedding ring comes inscribed with the words, 'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.' 

Thus that most soppy of theologians, the old German Martin 'married an ex-nun cos she was left over' Luther, wrote: 
The third incomparable grace of faith is this: that it unites the soul to Christ, as the wife to the husband, by which mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one flesh, and if a true marriage - no, by far the most perfect of all marriages - is accomplished between them (for human marriages are but feeble types of this one great marriage), then it follows that all they have, becomes theirs in common, as well good things as evil things; so that whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as His.
If we compare these possessions, we shall see how inestimable is the gain. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation. Let faith step in, and then sin, death, and hell will belong to Christ, and grace, life, and salvation to the soul. For, if he is a husband, he must take to himself that which is his wife's, and at the same time, give to his wife that which is his. For, in giving her his own body and himself, how can he but give her all that is his? And, in taking to himself the body of his wife, how can he but take to himself all that is hers?
In this is displayed the delightful sight, not only of communion, but of a prosperous warfare, of victory, salvation, and redemption. For, Christ is God and man, and is such a person as neither has sinned, nor dies, nor is condemned, indeed, cannot sin, die, or be condemned, and his righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and almighty. So then, when I say, such a person, by the wedding-ring of faith, takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of his wife, nay, makes them his own, and deals with them no differently than as if they were his, and as if he himself had sinned; and when he suffers, dies, and descends to hell, that he may overcome all things, and since sin, death, and hell cannot swallow him up, they must be swallowed up by him in stupendous conflict. For his righteousness rises above the sins of all men; his life is more powerful than all death; his salvation is more unconquerable than all hell.
Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its husband Christ. Thus he presents to himself a glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word; that is, by faith in the word of life, righteousness, and salvation. Thus he betroths her to himself 'in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in judgement, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies' (Hosea ii. 19, 20).
Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? 
Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, "If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine," as it is written, "My beloved is mine, and I am his" (Cant. ii. 16). This is what Paul says: "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," victory over sin and death, as he says, "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law" (1 Cor. xv. 56, 57).

[Aside: a few friends have posted this beautiful poem by Rael Mason, which captures the secondary place of marriage well, in a love poem, but not as you know it. "You'll never be the centre of my universe."]

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A strange way

A striking documentary on BBC3, available until 11th April: My brother, the Islamist

Young men searching for life, for meaning, a hope and a future. Knowing that this world, what we can construct by ourselves, doesn't offer much. Knowing so much is wrong. 

There was a striking choice of soundtrack at one point: one of my favourite Martyn Joseph songs, 'Strange Way'. It's so sad that these lost, disgruntled young men didn't come across the strange way of the song - of the cross of Jesus Christ. 
Strange way to start a revolution
Strange way to get a better tan
Strange way to hold a power breakfast
Strange way show your business plan

Strange way to see if wood would splinter
Strange way to do performance art
Strange way to say “I'll see you later”
Strange way to leave behind your heart

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes
Strange way

Strange way to hang around for hours
Strange way to imitate a kite
Strange way to get a view of Auschwitz
Strange way to represent the light

Strange way to watch for stormy weather
Strange way to disprove gravity
Strange way to go about fund-raising
Strange way to sing I'm liberty
Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes
Strange way

Strange way to test for haemophilia
Strange way to spend a happy hour
Strange way to down a bitter cocktail
Strange way to merchandise your power
Strange way to reassure your mother
Strange way to finish your world tour
Strange way to pose for countless paintings
Strange way to gather in the poor

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes
The world is too much with us
Could we not now just elope?
Strange way to hold us closer
Strange way to give us hope
Strange way

Monday, 4 April 2011

John Stott: A portrait by his friends

Those of my generation, outside of London and Anglican circles, could be forgiven for not knowing much of John Stott, his ministry and his legacy. But to continue in that ignorance would be foolish. The Lord used this servant more than any other one man, to influence Christianity in the UK (and possibly worldwide) in the 20th century - and therefore, also in the 21st. His books, preaching, CU missions, IFES involvement, London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world), The Lausanne Movement (connecting evangelical leaders worldwide towards world evangelization, 'an exchange of gifts'), Langham Partnership ministry encouraging, training and equipping across cultural borders (especially global north-south), and his friendship and discipling of so many - more people have been edified through his ministry than realise it, if we consider the cascading effect. 

So for Stott's 90th birthday, IVP have brought out: John Stott, a portrait by his friends. They already have the two-volume TD-S biography, of course, which is well worth a read, and Roger Steer's recent and more brief Inside Story (a nice introduction). But if you just want the flavour of this man of God and some insights into how he was used - and why it would be of benefit to read his books, and those about him - then pick up John Stott: a portrait by his friends. It's not quite the 'warts and all' that he wanted, but doesn't completely descend into hagiography - there are still useful things to learn and much for which to praise God. 

(As it's a beautiful hardback, get it for your pastor / spiritual parent / ministry leader, as they'll surely appreciate it, and then borrow it to read yourself!) IVP have it on an introductory offer of £9.99 - as of 29-3-11, no note for how long.

I would have reviewed it, but Mark Meynell got in there first and said what I was going to.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Story maths

Because I owe to my Mum a love of stories, and a love of maths, and the eyes to see that they really are quite connected:

[Thanks, xkcd]


Friday, 1 April 2011

Everyone is in a relationship with God

Perhaps you've noticed that there are similarities between religions. It's certainly something that media and school syllabi want to push, from a misguided notion that if we're different, we can't get on. (Did papering over the cracks ever help a couple live together?) But maybe you find it reassuring - there's some spirituality, then, and we can choose what suits us. 

I wonder if you'd think the same if I paid you a bundle of various fake £20 notes. Would you be reassured that they're so similar, there must be some value in all of them? Or would it set you to want the real thing, the genuine article that's behind their mimicry?

Religion and religions are idolatrous responses to God's revelation. But because of the nature of idolatry (as it's painted in the Bible), idols, or idolatry, is always counterfeit on something that is true. Idols don't work out of nothing: they are copies, they are mimics. And so with anything that's a copy, or mimic: if I have a fake £20 note, there are lots of ways in which it resembles a real £20 note - you'd expect to see some similarities! But at the end of the day it's a copy, it's a fake. And I think that any response to God that is not worship of the Truine God of the Bible, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, YAHWEH, of Jesus Christ, is an idolatrous response to God.

'In everything God creates, he has his fingerprints in all creation. So everyone (even if they've never heard of Jesus Christ) who has ever lived is always in a relationship with God: they are born in that relationship. We are made 'in God's image', so it's not as if we are wandering around wondering if there might be a God or not. The fact that we're created by God, in that sense, I'm happy to say that we have a God-shaped hole: we are made to worship the living God.

'But Romans 1 tells us, with that revelation, what have we done? Have we accepted it? No. We have suppressed that truth; we have exchanged it for other things. So, interestingly, when I as a Christian, go to talk to someone who's a Muslim or a Buddhist, I believe they already have a relationship with God. They are already suppressing the truth: they already know God in a certain sense. But at the same time, they know God so much that they are without excuse: they are responsible.
'So I want to say that any response to the living God of the Bible that is not worship in the way that God has proscribed (cf the first commandment, the second commandment) is an idolatrous relationship, and people have to turn around (repent), and believe the true things about God, and supremely, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.'

Listen to the podcast for more, on...
  • Is it a problem for Christians that religious beliefs contemporary to Israel were similar?
  • Did religions evolve from primal beliefs, or degenerate?
  • What does Dan mean by making up a word to say that religions have 'remnantal' truth?
  • And how are human beings like the Borg, in how we use truth? [Trust Dan to have a StarTrek reference.]