Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Linux to the rescue

If you go here you'll see that Stephen Dancer has been using his fancy Mac to improve his appearance.

So that the world's not fooled, and for those who've never met the good Doctor, I've performed a public service by using the power of Linux to restore the photo to its original appearance. Believe me, that super-nova above his right shoulder is really distracting when you're trying to listen to the fellow preach.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

A Higher Law

The expenses scandal concerning MPs in the UK has made the national press even here in Kenya. It's very informative to see the wide-scale outrage as I read the websites of the UK press. Right across the spectrum - people of all shares and stripes of ideological opinion are agreed that gross, iniquitous excesses have taken place.

What I find particularly informative though is to look at one of the places where this agreement has concentrated. Whilst many MPs protest that what they did was "within the rules", there's basically unanimous agreement that a) that isn't good enough b) the rules are crooked and c) we expect MPs as public servants to obey principles which are more ultimate than simply what's in their own self-imposed rule-book. There is, we're all quite sure, a rule book beyond the rule book. There are principles which the rule book should be judged by. The self-made laws of parliamentarians, even though parliament is the highest body in the land, must bow before and be judged by the higher ideals. Corruption has an independent existence from human opinion, and can never be made right just by the fiat of even kings.

The elephant in the room which I don't find the commentators in the UK press then raising a question about, is this: what exactly is this "rule book to rule the rule books"? What is the source of these higher values that can judge the highest body in the country? Who made these laws that judge the law-makers? If we all agree that such things exist - and there seems to be no disagreement about that at all - then shouldn't someone at least ask on what basis such things can be?

You know the answer; as I say, it's the elephant in the room, and that's why the secularist UK press can't bring itself to mention it. Man is bound by the law of God. It's external to him and imposed upon him - he must ultimately bow to it, whether he pleases to do so or not. It's written on our consciences, and we know that we are ultimately accountable.

Ultimately the secular principles on which the UK has been governed by its present elite float in mid-air. The MPs who protest "I was within the rules!" are actually 100% right on their own secularist principles. As good secularists, those MPs are simply protesting on the same basis as they previously governed. It is truly a bit rich for the secular press which never questioned them before to now be raising these higher principles which before could be so conveniently ignored. But that's the tragedy of unbelief - it can't be carried out consistently. Once you try to press it too far, something has to give. If you try to bring it too much out of your private thought world of unbelief and into the real world that God created, pressure will build up until something bursts. It doesn't work! The pressure just burst in Westminster - the irresistible force of the idea that man was the highest being and could make his own laws met the immovable object of man's knowledge that "thou shalt not steal" is an immutable law of God that all men must bow to, and it lost.

The real tragedy behind the tragedy is that this obvious question that's been raised - of how we can be so angry about these higher principles being broken when we've spent so many decades refusing to officially acknowledge their real existence and trying to build a society without them. And what that means is that if and when we clear the decks of the present exemplars of our moral corruption, we'll just wheel in some more. What the UK needs is not a change of faces without questioning its underlying principles; we need to turn in godly sorrow to the God whose laws we routinely despise but can't ultimately escape from. Jesus Christ is still a gracious Saviour, and will receive us - even us - still.

Last words of saints and sinners (reposted)

When we are thinking about death, we are thinking about the ultimate reality of our existence in this life: it ends. A couple of quotes from "Last Words Of Saints And Sinners: 700 Final Quotes from the Famous, the Infamous, and the Inspiring Figures of History", Herbert Lockyer, Kregel, 1969:

1. Augustus Montague Toplady (1710-1778), will ever be famous as the author of one of the most evangelical hymns of the eighteenth century, "Rock of Ages," which was first published in 1776. During the final illness, Toplady was greatly supported by the consolations of the gospel:

"The consolations of God, to so unworthy a wretch are so abundant; that he leaves me nothing to pray for but their continuance."

Near his last, awaking from a sleep, he said:

"Oh, what delights! Who can fathom the joy of the third heaven? The sky is clear, there is no cloud; come Lord Jesus, come quickly!"

He died saying:

"No mortal man can live after the glories which God has manifested to my soul."

2. Voltaire, the noted French [atheist] and one of the most fertile and talented writers of his time, used his pen to retard and demolish Christianity. Of Christ, Voltaire said: "Curse the wretch!" He once boasted, "In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear." Shortly after his death the very house in which he printed his foul literature became the depot of the Geneva Bible Society. The nurse who attended Voltaire said: "For all the wealth in Europe I would not see another infidel die." The physician, Trochim, waiting up with Voltaire at his death said that he cried out most desperately:
"I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months' life. Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!"

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Here's a riddle!

After that tirade against the trivial... ...which person, awarded an MBE today, once directly inflicted a nice juicy bruise on my left leg?

A world of triviality

One of the ways in which the devil keeps people asleep in their sins is by filling their lives with the trivial. When the trivial becomes accepted as important, the value of the currency of the really important is degraded. If there's enough pseudo-important things to fill the time, then it's easier to not find time for the actually important. Many actually important things make people without Christ uncomfortable, so until God awakens them they're happy enough to go along with this. Which brings me to this BBC news story title:

Nick Faldo receives a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to golf

"Services to golf" ? Now come on. He's an incredibly talented fellow who's invested vast amounts of time in developing his God-given talent which has brought pleasure to many thousands, and that in itself is a good thing. (I'm not here going into other issues - the ethics of professional sport, playing on the Lord's Day, his divorce and adultery, etcetera). But golf is not a master that it is a great sacrifice to serve, especially when one is vastly personally enriched and gains thousands of devoted fans in the process. Gold is a leisure activity! A sport! It's a privilege to play it for fun and get paid  for the privilege! Ultimately golf in and of itself is a trivial activity. The "service" rendered by Nick Faldo to society is vastly less than that of the life-long dustman who patiently and dutifully goes about his business, keeping his cog in the great machine going so that everybody else can contribute their part without hindrance. That's more like a genuine service, because it didn't come with thousands of fans or millions of pounds or personal fame, and was something that actually helped civilisation keep going, unlike the practice of driving down the fairway.

The principle of the state awarding celebrities rewards for their "service" began years ago now and we hardly bat an eyelid. It's part of the transformation of society to a society that is so fixated by the trivial that the non-trivial is squeezed out. Marx thought that religion was "the opium of the masses". But when society was more religious, it was also vastly more serious. Marx has been proved wrong. It's his disciples (though they don't often dare to name his name), the political class of the last few decades, who have fed the masses the opium of triviality (celebrity culture, politicians made for television, benefits and unnecessary medication by the barrel-load) to keep everybody sedated so that their own goals can be advanced.

If and when the UK repents, spending so much time and energy on the trivial will be one of the chief sins to repent of. God lent us a life - and what are we spending it on? And on that note, it's time to stop!

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Greater Exodus

I'm not sure the below really makes good blog material. But I don't think it'll do any harm to anyone! It's a handout for my students, in the Exodus course. It's too complicated for them but it's the best I could do under present constraints. You might get an idea from it of how thrilling I find it to open up the Scriptures each week with a class of students. To see open eyes as people understand the meaning of the Bible where they hadn't seen it before makes the exhausting task of teaching for 5 hours each Thursday the best job in the world. "Ah, so that's what it's really about!"

* * *

Exodus (Teacher: David Anderson) – Week 4 Handout

The Exodus

God has brought salvation to us through human history. A lot of the Bible is history. Some people think that history is less important than theology (doctrine). But this is a mistake – God has put the two together. He acts in history, and explains what it is that he is doing so that we can understand it. Therefore, if we are going to understand what the Exodus means, we must first study the history.

The Exodus itself (from the time Moses met God at the burning bush until Israel had crossed the Red Sea) is recorded in chapters 3-15:

  1. Meeting God at the burning bush, 3:1-4:17

  2. Moses' return to Egypt and meeting the elders of Israel, 4:18-31

  3. Meeting with Pharaoh and the results, 5:1-21

  4. The plagues, climaxing in the death of the firstborn, 5:22-11:10

  5. The Passover and the Exodus itself, 12:1-13:16

  6. The fall of the Egyptian army, 13:17-14:31

  7. The song of victory, 15:1-21

It is difficult to summarise this in a few words! It will be best for you to study Bentley. But do notice that the book of Exodus itself makes it clear that something important is happening. God could, if he wanted, have removed Israel from Egypt in a different way – without any plagues, or a festival (the Passover). It is clear that God was doing something with greater significance than just the exit itself. This was a crucial time for Israel. Before, they had lived under Egypt's laws and were not a nation themselves. Now they became one, and they received the Old Covenant which governed them until the time of Christ.

The Significance Of The Exodus For Christians

Here, we are asking what the Exodus means for us today. That is different to asking what it meant for Jews in Old Testament times. We are not asking what it meant to live under the Old Covenant – we will ask that another week. We are asking what it means for us living under the New Covenant.

If you read Exodus 19:4-6, followed by Colossians 1:12-15 and 1 Peter 2:9-11 you will see that the apostles Paul and Peter taught the Gentiles to understand the gospel using the Exodus. In the Exodus, a people were redeemed by blood from the power of darkness and given a wonderful inheritance. They became a new people belonging to the holy God as his own chosen possession. They were saved through the death of a lamb, when in Egypt the firstborn perished.

The apostles taught that this really is what has happened in the gospel. The church is a new nation, living under a new covenant. We were in slavery to Satan and sin in darkness. But at the cross, there has been a great judgment on those powers and they have been defeated and God's people have gone free. The gospel is the true Exodus, and Christ is both the firstborn who died under God's judgment and the lamb of God who substituted in the place of his people to save them. We have now become a holy people who belong to God and have been given his laws to live under.

How did Paul learn the meaning of the gospel so quickly, without going to a Bible college? The answer is simple. He had spent years studying the Old Testament Scriptures before he became a Christian. These Scriptures taught him about all the ideas that he would need to teach about as an apostle. They taught about a redemption that pointed forwards to the true redemption that Jesus would achieve at the cross. Paul did not need to forget all his Old Testament learning to learn something new. Instead, he simply needed to understand that the Old Testament was not complete in itself, but that it was preparing people to understand a greater reality that would happen when Jesus died at Calvary. People were often crucified by the Romans in Israel in the 1st century. How would anybody know that Jesus' death had any greater meaning? The answer is that God had been preparing for it for thousands of years. The Exodus was a model prepared in advance to explain the gospel.

It is very important to use the Old Testament rightly. We must read it remembering that it is there to lead the way to Christ and the New Testament. We use it wrongly if we start teaching that God wants us to have a large land or free us from political oppression like Israel. The earthly redemption of the Exodus is a model leading to the redemption from sin in the New Testament. It is true that sin is the cause of many problems in the world. But the solution does not come to us through a new earthly Exodus, but through the death of Christ and our obedience to him.

Now study Hebrews 3:1-4:8 and 1 Corinthians chapter 10. Here we are taught that the Jews were not a different people. Paul tells the non-Jewish Corinthians that the Jews were their ancestors! The church is the fulfilment and climax of God's promises to Israel. Because we are God's people who continue the story of the Jews, that means that we can learn from them and their experiences. In these verses, we learn that Christians are like Israel travelling through the wilderness. We have been redeemed from slavery to sin, but the promised inheritance is still ahead of us. The Israelites grumbled because they did not trust God. As a result, God was angry with them and they fell in the wilderness. We face the same danger. God can supply all our needs, but we need to trust him and not fall into grumbling or unbelief. The apostles used the Exodus to teach Christians how to live today. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 is another important example, where Gentile Christians are taught using the Exodus. 1 Corinthians 10:11 says that all those things were written for us, who live under the gospel. Christ's death is much more than a new Passover and a new Exodus bringing a new Covenant and a new people. It is also a new Day of Atonement with a new High Priest; he is a new temple, a new King David, a new Son of David/Prince of Peace, a new Elisha, a new Adam and much more. But whilst he is more, he is not less! Christ is the true subject of the book of Exodus.

Preaching The Exodus

How should we teach or preach from Exodus today? John 5:44-46 and Acts 26:22-23 tells us that Moses taught about Christ. Therefore we know we can preach from it!

  1. We must preach about Christ – because it is about him.

  2. We must use it to explain the gospel – Exodus is given to explain the gospel!

  3. We must use it to explain the position of Christians today, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 10.

  4. We must use it to explain the duties of Christians today, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 5.

If you think about those four points, then there is nothing very special to Exodus about them. That is what we should do with every book in the Bible. There are no books that are just “for the Jews” or for people who live in some future time. It is all for the Christian church, “on whom the climax of the ages has come”, 1 Corinthians 10:11.

  • Don't use it just to teach stories with moral lessons. It is about redemption, not just giving us stories to illustrate other principles.

  • Don't use it just to teach morals – don't do this, do that; be like Moses, not like Aaron with the golden calf, etc. We must first go from Exodus to Christ, and only then to our duties.

A tribute to Willis Metcalfe, 1922-2009

Willis Metcalfe: farmer, would-be missionary to China, preacher, founding member of a local church, book publisher and missionary, newspaper director, educationalist, husband and father of four children (and those are just the bits I knew about) went to be with Christ on Monday, which is far better. You've perhaps never heard of him. He didn't serve Christ for fame on earth; he served him for love and for the sake of those still lost. He was salt and light in a wicked world and did much to spread the truth of the gospel; he surely received a famous welcome in heaven from the One who loved him and shed his blood for him.

Revelation 14:13 - "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."

Numbers 23:10 - "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"

Read more about his life here.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Home education - there's a long way to go

There are more stories in the media in recent years about home education, and they're less negative than they used to be - it's gradually becoming more accepted as normal.

But there's still a long way to go. See this story today from the BBC. The assumption is still that it's a quirky choice. School is the norm. Of course, that reflects reality as most people experience it; school is assumed. But I think we should step back and ask - how on earth did something like that become the norm?

In home education one of the person who loves you most in the world supervises your education. It's also the person who knows you best. You likely have a class size of one to five (more kids than that and you probably do them in batches or the older ones have been taught effectively to self-teach 90% of the time). The schedule has maximum flexibility. The teaching approach can be tailored to the child's aptitude. No time is wasted on travelling to school, uniforms or the other paraphernalia. No time is wasted by the kids in the class who don't want to learn, or because the teacher changes every year, or on bullying, or staff strikes (well, not often!), or the like. The class goes at exactly your pace. You can choose your children's friends (it's nonsense today that home education has to mean social exclusion - in most areas now there are such large numbers now that you can link up with as many groups as you like as often as you please).

Given all those advantages, sending your kid to the local school ought to be the non-normal choice. Without exceptional circumstances, why would you choose what you find there rather than the above?

The only cloud on the horizon is that the government has over the last few years been trying increasingly hard to bring home education more under its all-competent (ha!) control. This can't be because the standards in state schools are so high that it'd be good if they spilt over into our homes too - it's surely much more to do with the government's belief in its unlimited competency and lack of realisation that government should govern, not parent. Also many secular and atheist groups have, with no data presented to back it up, successfully spread around the "meme" that home schooling is a cover for child abuse. As often, the scare story becomes the pretext for more centralised control.  It's following a familiar path, though we're at early days yet: government has consultations which don't get the required results, so it has more consultations. Then it says change is needed even though the overwhelming response to the consultation was that change wasn't needed. At first the government just brings in registration and oversight. Then once the foot is in the door, it gradually awards itself more powers. Eventually you might end up in Germany - where if parents wish to educate their children themselves instead of having the government do it, it's a criminal offence that will lead to your child being taken away (Google - you'll find plenty of cases; Hitler brought in that law and it's been used with some zeal by the German government lately). Here's a BBC story on the UK government's attempts to do more in this area. At first it'll be registration; then you'll have to apply to register; then the list of conditions to fulfil will grow longer and longer; before you know it the controversy will be that only the government-approved view of this or that can be taught at home... the time to pray to God and to campaign is now, before it all arrives.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Noooooo .......

I gave up noting the most amusing/terrible/tragic answers on my students' homework... they came too thick and fast... it's hard to make me even bat an eyelid now... but here's a cracker:
Q. When Moses put the bronze snake high up on a pole, what did it point forward to?

A. Towards the west

Argh!!!!! Personally I think I spend the great part of every lecture (this course is on Exodus) explaining how the Old Testament teaches the gospel of Christ and hammering any contrary belief. So after 10 hours class time some answers to homework are really quite depressing:
Q. What was the main and most important subject that Moses wrote about?

A. About being put right with God by obeying the law

Gah! Argh! Ach! No! Stop it right now! That particular student, though, later answered a question with "The Old Testament is teaching us on how to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ", so whilst he's confused at least something got through! Sadly, the belief that the Old Testament is about a failed way of salvation by law is the default belief in Kenya.

But don't worry - another 15 hours of class time remain. There's still time!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Sermon on Exodus 7-10

I had cause to upload a sermon I preached on Exodus 7-10 (the first nine plagues on Egypt) 3 years ago. It can be downloaded here:

Monday, 1 June 2009

Talking about homosexuality

Ever had this question in a conversation a pro-homosexualist?
Homosexualist: Why are you evangelicals so obsessed about sex? Does your God spend all the time obsessing about what goes on in people's bedrooms?
The answer of course is: you started it! Society once had a consensus - man-woman lifelong marriage was part of the created and proper order, binding on everyone. Other sexual activity was wrong, and in the case of homosexuality, definitely depraved. Then came the "sexual revolution", with an agenda to radically change that consensus. The only reason that the homosexual activists want to end the conversation now, is because now they've, through a relentless campaign, succeeded in getting people who agree with them into the key positions in society. And now they'd like to shut the dissenters up. The real conversation went like this:
Homosexualist: Let's talk about sex! Let's talk about sex! You're wrong, and we won't shut up until we've got our way! Let's talk about sex!

.... some years pass ...

Us: Actually, we still object.

Homosexualist: Why are you people so obsessed with sex? Pipe down a bit, for goodness sake!
Actually it's often a bit more menacing than that; there's an "or else" more and more thrown in nowadays. Or else: lose your job because we've implemented a "diversity policy" (diverse enough to embrace everybody except people who don't agree with them!), or if you're in a position of some kind of power be hounded and abused by the media, or if you're a nobody just posting on the Internet be subjected to some kind of unpleasant abuse by e-mail or website, etcetera, etcetera.

What should evangelicals do in the face of this constant pressure to shut up or be unpleasantly abused/smeared/discriminated against? Getting this bit of the response right is very important. We must talk all the more, and all the more clearly. The homosexualist campaign depends vitally upon ensuring that those who disagree keep quiet. It's a fact that the majority, even after so many years of aggressive homosexual propaganda, still believe, as they were wired by creation to do, that to have sex with someone of the same gender is a perverse and revolting act - something against nature, no common crime. That is, and always will be, how most people will think and believe until the final death throes of a society. That's a tipping point that Western civilisation might get to soon, but it's not there yet. For the homosexualists to advance their agenda further towards that end (e.g. compulsary indoctrination of all children and state employees in their malignant teaching) requires that the dissenters are kept quiet. They must become as if they didn't exist - invisible, unspeaking. Then the homosexualists have the stage to themselves and can seem to be the overwhelming opinion of society when they aren't.

Most in society will keep quiet. If they're left in peace, they have no reason to make martyrs of themselves. But Christians are different. We believe in the future - and in a duty to our neighbours in the future (including our children and grand-children). We believe in a final judgment - in which we will have to give an account for our own faithfulness or lack of it. We believe in Christ, who can sustain us through all the miserable insults and petty intimidations of the pro-homosexual lobby. We believe too that those who are determined to take the fast road to eternal damnation can be rescued by the kindness and power of God - if they hear the truth. That of course means the gospel of Christ - but also the law of God so that they might know what the sins that he calls them to repent of are. We believe that telling them the truth is an act of love that can be part of leading them from the miserable trap of seeking fulfilment in perverted sexual pleasure, to the truth of the joy and satisfaction which are in knowing God in Christ - the joy of knowing that the great God is our great God.

Jesus told Christians to be salt and light. But if the salt loses its saltiness, it's useless. A light that is covered is as good as no light at all. Speak, speak clearly and speak now.