Friday, 24 December 2010

When Jesus was born

Tomorrow the world (with varying degrees of awareness) remembers the day that divided human history into two: the coming of God as man.

I have been walking outside earlier this week, and today, whilst on various errands. It is very busy where I am. People are building, buying, selling, repairing, planning, working, partying, relaxing, spending...

As I walked home this afternoon, I thought to myself... why do they bother? Such a lot of activity. For what, ultimately?

The old pagan view of history was that it was cyclical. Everything comes and goes... then comes again, and goes again... and so on.

And on, and on, and on. And on.

Christians have a radically different view of history: history as inevitable (but not smooth!), God-ruled progress leading to a glorious fulfilment. History under the control and direction of Jesus Christ, the God-man who is now raised to the Father's right hand, and who will fulfil all that his Father has appointed for him, bringing the nations to obedience under him and ultimately reigning forever and ever.

Since the Enlightenment, modern secularists have seemed to be trying to combine parts of these two ideas (cyclical / progress). Relentless progress comes from scientific endeavour and (since the 20th century) pushes for democratic reforms. New advances are indeed made. (Modern secularists ought to be honest enough to acknowledge that modern science and democratic ideals had their historical roots ultimately in the Protestant Reformation. I digress). But where is the goal? What are we heading to with all of this? What will the technological nirvana look like, and will it leave us feeling fulfilled when we get there? Will we arrive in some kind of heaven once everybody has fully free and fair elections? On the other hand, a lot of modern life is tediously cyclical. The X Factor comes, and goes... and comes again. The reds win the league, then the blues win it, then the reds win it again. The blue party wins at the polls, then the red party, and then the blue one again. People are born, get educated, work, have a family, get into some scrapes along the way, die, and then their offspring repeat it. Is there an ultimate destination that these cycles are heading towards? Or is it just more of the same but just a little bit better every decade or so? Is the ultimate goal of humanity the X Factor as it will be in the year 3000, and the Premier League will be so exciting that you'll, you'll, ... well ... you'll what? Isn't there something more to life than this? Is progress more than just better technology, a better education system, a more "fair" society, better health care and everybody getting to choose freely from a wide range of choices as to precisely how they slowly die? Isn't there something more?

So, as I walked home I looked at the green grass and the trees. Life has colour because there is one great, over-riding story: that of the Saviour who was born at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. All things are because of him, by him and for him. Life has colour and purpose because of him. It's worth pressing into another year because his kingdom can never fail, and its final fulfilment is now a year closer. Hallelujah!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The end of the world as we know it

I read the UK news websites 6 days a week.

In them, I see that in the UK, the idea of possibly facing very modest cuts in lifestyle standard is apparently one of the worst things you could possibly contemplate.

I ask myself - why do people in the land of my birth seem to have such a strong dose of this in their thinking? Grant that my description is too much of a generalisation.. but there is something there, isn't there? Where does it come from?

My answer: I think it's part of the misery of the practical atheism of the modern West. There's nothing to aim for, so they believe, in the next life.

Therefore, if you don't get it in this life, you won't get it at all.

That's why social engineers, dreamers and interferers want to find a way to guarantee continual happiness for everyone, if at all possible. Because if we don't get happiness now, so they think, we won't ever get it.

Of course, when I say things like that, people are tempted to think of old stereotypes of a Christianity which insists that the social order must remain what it is today, forever and ever amen - the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate.

Not at all. The point is that if you think you must build heaven on earth, you're building on doomed foundations. It can't be done. You will be uneasy, unhappy, you will fail. But if you being by letting heaven be heaven, and let earth be earth, then you have laid the foundation for being happy in both.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Why shouldn't it be you?

"Though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job, were in it [the land], they should deliver only their own souls by their righteousness, says the Lord God." - Ezekiel 14v14

"Oh Daniel, a man greatly beloved" - Daniel 10:11
The Bible teaches that some people are closer to God than others. Not all Christians are the same. God has his favourites, as even a scanty consideration of the Bible's history or of Christian biographies shows.

And if some believers walk more closely with God and enjoy more of his favour than others, how can you bear for it to not be you? If some have got closer to God than you have, is not that itself enough to make you resolve to get there too? They didn't get closer because they were someone else's children other than Adam's. They got closer because of nothing in themselves, but because God's power and grace were greater towards them: and that power and grace are no less real today. Some Christians enjoy a depth and sweetness of fellowship with their Saviour that you haven't known yet. What sins are worth holding on to, rather than exchanging them for that? What do you want from life? If you want to get closer to God, you can, if you seek him and obey his commandments. It's not magic; use the light and opportunities you've been given, and you will receive more - with sufferings too. How much do you want it?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Do not be afraid

The Bible's most common command to Christians is, "do not be afraid". It appears 84 times in the Old Testament alone.

Why is it the most common command? There are two obvious reasons:
  1. Fear and faith are opposites. To trust God means not to be afraid of the worst that men or Satan can do. To fear as we see circumstances closing in on us, means that we think we won't be safe relying on God alone.
  2. For fallen men and women, in their alienation from and ignorance of God, fear drives almost everything they do. They fear social rejection or ridicule, so they conform with what is wrong. They fear being hungry or homeless because they don't have access to the God who provides and try instead to fall back on their own resources. They fear death because they instinctively know they are not right with their Maker, cut off from the source of life.
Ultimately, fear makes no sense for God's children. Is God all-powerful, so that he can prevent anything not ultimately beneficial to you? Yes. Is God all-loving, so that he does not desire anything not ultimately beneficial to come to you? Yes. Is God all-knowing and all-wise, so that he is fully aware of everything that could possibly come to you? Yes. So what is there left to be afraid of? Only God himself - and because of Jesus Christ, that is the fear of obedient and reverent and rejoicing sons and daughters, not of condemned sinners. The only thing we should fear is not loving and trusting him enough.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Because we know

Newspaper headline: "Jim Morrison wins posthumous pardon - American rock legend Jim Morrison won a posthumous pardon Thursday for charges of indecent exposure brought after a drunken rant at a concert 41 years ago Florida officials said."

Mr. Morrison was before my time. I don't know anything more about him than is in the above article.

But I do know that the concept of a posthumous pardon is only meaningful in a theistic universe. The Bible says that everybody knows about the reality of God, though they try to suppress it. But it just keeps leaking out, because it's who we are - made in God's image, living in God's world which testifies everywhere and always to God, we can't avoid it. Leopards have spots, ants work hard, and men know that God is, because that's how they're made.

In an imaginary atheistic universe, by now Jim Morrison would have been nothing for a long time. There is no Jim Morrison any more to pardon: he's dead, Jim. In a consistent atheistic universe, justice and righteousness do not exist as fundamental concepts, only as constructed ideas that exist solely in people's imaginations. (And which they disagree a lot about). The idea of handing out "justice" to a no-longer-existent ex-lump of long-rotted carbon-and-calcium would be foolish and absurd. Why bother? Who's keeping score, who cares, and if they do care shouldn't we send them for corrective counselling rather than indulge them?

But if human beings do continue after death, and if justice and righteousness are fundamental concepts of the universe, then this kind of thing makes sense. At least, it makes sense in principle...

Once someone has died, the right to pardon belongs to God alone. Mr. Morrison has left this world in which God has delegated authority to men, and entered the next world where God alone gives the verdicts - so it's not for us to pardon those who have entered His courts. That makes this line in the article a logical nonsense, even though Governor Crist identifies the underlying assumption:
"In this case, guilt or innocence is in God's hands, not ours. That is why I ask my colleagues today to pardon Jim Morrison," Crist said.
A world in which God is, God's law matters, and human beings know it, but are confused. That's the world we live in... and we know that too.

Do you believe the Bible?

According to the Bible, our material needs are all of the things on this list:
  • Daily food
  • Clothing
(I think that exegesis can also show that "clothing" includes night-clothing, and by extension a place to sleep).

e.g. 1 Timothy 6:8, "if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." The whole section that that verse is in should be looked at; see also Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 10:1-12 and Philippians 3:10-14.

I've lived in the West for most of my life, and in Kenya for 3 years. My conclusion from putting the two together is this: I can't think of a Biblical teaching that is more widely and openly disbelieved by professing Christians than this one.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christian preacher wins damages for unlawful arrest

Encouraging news from the Christian Institute:
An autistic Christian street preacher who was handcuffed and arrested for speaking out against homosexuality and many other sins has been awarded £4,250 in damages following a court case against West Midlands Police.
In a case backed by The Christian Institute, Birmingham County Court ruled on Wednesday that PC Adrian Bill committed assault and battery against Mr Anthony Rollins when he handcuffed him unnecessarily.
The court also ruled that Mr Rollins was wrongfully arrested, unlawfully detained and his human rights to free speech and religious liberty were infringed. The court ordered the police to pay Mr Rollins' legal costs.
Now, West Midlands Police may think twice before arresting anyone for lawful Christian witness. Mr. Rollins could have rolled over, said "I don't need the trouble of a court-case", and backed down. But his courageous actions have, we hope, preserved precious freedoms for believers (and unbelievers, where they disagree from the stifling PC consensus) in his area for a little longer. We need to pray that God will raise up more men and women who will take on the inconvenience of fighting for freedoms, because it's only those kind of people who will win these kind of gains that we all enjoy the benefits of...

Alien life?

The supply of the present-day opium to the masses (i.e. secularism) includes a steady diet of mass-media stories suggesting that alien life might exist, and thatperhaps the probabilities are almost certain now.

Scrape the surface of the headlines, and you'll usually find evidence of nothing except the mass-media's prejudice, someone's attempt to draw attention to themselves or get funding, or a hundred "might / possibly / speculated" get-out clauses.

I'm happy to say that with NASA's latest "alien biology" press release, someone else has already done the donkey work of taking it apart for us...
Has NASA discovered ET Life?

NASA announced that they were going to reveal “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

But as usual, hype makes headlines. They just found a well-known variety of Earth bacteria on Earth—nothing extraterrestrial about it. But this one used arsenic, usually known as a toxin, that is chemically quite similar to the vital element phosphorus (a component of DNA, RNA, and ATP, among many other vital molecules of life). Yet even these germs grew better under phosphorus, and this arsenic use was sub-optimal. So far from being ET creatures, or even evolutionary advancements, they are more like the citrate-eating bacteria that have a disabled off-switch and the superbugs that are really superwimps that we have reported on previously.

So, this is more publicity seeking by an organization always seeking funding, and using the popular cultural belief in alien life is a sure fire winner for them. It’s just the “Mars Life” fiasco all over again.

As this is making spectacular headlines, claims of ‘different life’ will no doubt be used as a ‘proof’ of evolution. To be prepared with real science about this discovery, read NASA’s ET suffered arsenic poisoning! by Shaun Doyle.

Ways to destroy your child's imagination

Justin Taylor, quoting a newly published book, lists ten ways to destroy your child's imagination (or that's what he says - I count only eight or nine!):
Esolen shows how imagination is snuffed out at practically every turn:
  • in the rearing of children almost exclusively indoors;
  • in the flattening of love to sex education, and sex education to prurience and hygiene;
  • in the loss of traditional childhood games;
  • in the refusal to allow children to organize themselves into teams;
  • in the effacing of the glorious differences between the sexes;
  • in the dismissal of the power of memory, which creates the worst of all possible worlds in school—drudgery without even the merit of imparting facts;
  • in the strict separation of the child’s world from the adult’s;
  • and in the denial of the transcendent, which places a low ceiling on the child’s developing spirit and mind.

 My immediate thoughts...
  • My children are used to playing outdoors every day. They spent last week without their usual big garden... and there have been many tears. (Of course, this gives an opportunity to try to encourage them to focus on the good things they had instead, but it was very interesting to me and mum to listen to them).
  • "Destroying your child's imagination" means destroying your child's creativity, which means giving great damage to their usefulness. At least, destroying their usefulness in not being drones to carry out the will of our society's present secularist thought-leaders, that is. I suppose that's what is meant by the quote in the original blog-post, "As author Anthony Esolen demonstrates in this elegantly written, often wickedly funny new book, almost everything we are doing to children now constricts their imaginations, usually to serve the ulterior motives of the constrictors."
  • I wonder what Esolen sees as a way towards a solution. Taylor doesn't say anything in this regard, neither does the blogger he got it from. Obviously, the present state-controlled education system is a huge factor in promoting the above list. To reform state education would be part of a solution, but that's a generational project - it's not going to happen in time for any of our children today. Being aware of the problem is only one necessary - but not sufficient - step towards actually mitigating its effects...
  • ... and so surely one of the necessary steps for parents today is to either use, or if it's not available from others, to themselves organise alternative, solidly Christian-based education. Is it not? What we pass on to the world ultimately is our children (both physical and spiritual). If this organising isn't worth it, what is?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Aslan and Tash

I can't imagine that C S Lewis would truly be angered by this. Saying that so-and-so is "angry" in reaction to any disagreement seems to be a modern media fetish - it makes the story they're writing seem more exciting or important than it really is.

Personally I laughed and rolled my eyes and imagine Lewis would have done likewise. Obviously Mr. Neeson is a bit Narnia-ignorant. Just who does he think Tash is? Has he never read how Aslan responded to the suggestion that he and Tash were the same? Oh dear.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Preserving Christian values

I receive different e-mails from organisations whose work is to give a Christian testimony in the public and political sphere. One part of such work is fighting to preserve freedoms that had their roots in Christian teaching.

I think that's valuable work, and thank God for those whom God has raised up with that calling and gifting.

Christians must always remember, though, that "Christian values" are not the root of the tree, but its fruit. Being "salt" to preserve the good fruits of Christianity is a good work. But the next generation needs far more than this work. It needs new fruit to grow, as a result of strong, healthy roots. Slowing down the decay of old fruit is real help. But - to change to a military metaphor - it is a holding operation, not an advance.

"Christian values" are a result of Christian regeneration, from the loving and effective proclaiming of Christ himself to sinners. They are the result of Christ himself coming to live amongst his people. The gospel tells us that without the living Christ, attempts at moral reform are doomed to failure. But if we bow the knee to Christ, then he gives us his own Spirit, and his Spirit will make us new people.

The ultimate and foundational Christian value is that Christ himself is the Lord and Saviour. All other "values" flow out of that one, and are nothing without it. A "Christian" who tries to live their life by copying Christ's behaviour but without this foundation, is no Christian at all - he's living a charade. We may as well make mooing noises, eat grass and then claim we have thus become cows. A real Christian knows, submits to and enjoys God in Christ, and then the real Christian life flows unfailingly out of that. If we really care for our nation then churches and individual believers must first of all focus on that, and the rest must be allowed to come from there.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

What a day may bring

Yesterday at 10.50 a.m., I was walking alongside the road outside my
house. About 30 metres in front of me and in the road, Mark Wanyama
Marofu was riding his bicycle. He was a poor, labouring man, 55 years
old and a member of the Salvation Army, who was cycling to an epilepsy
centre where he did some volunteer work.

Behind us both was a Mitsubishi Prado driven by a drunk man who was (I'm
fairly sure) not its owner. He drove past me, but into Mark's bicycle,
shunting him down the road, and into a parked pick-up truck with such
force that some of the car's bumper fell off. Mark finished up under
the pick-up; his bike ended up about another 20 metres down the road.
Other angry pedestrians started chasing the Prado, which crashed into a
bollard not much further on.

I telephoned a friend who was coming to meet me, and about 10 minutes
later we had managed to get Mark into the car and were on the way to the
nearest hospital. We managed to find out Mark's identity from the
contents of his pockets.

Mark still seemed semi-conscious at this point - it wasn't clear if he
could understand anything that was going on, but he seemed to register
that someone was speaking to him - and still conscious but less so
whilst he was having his emergency assessment at the A & E. But not much
later, he was hooked up to all kinds of machines and having continual
injections and a blood transfusion. The machines were flashing up many
warnings about his blood pressure, pulse, oxygen levels and body
temperature. It seemed that he was in shock with big internal bleeding,
but the staff managed to stabilise him and the numbers improved. But not
long later they put a curtain around him and refused to allow me to see
him any more and gave no more reports.

From the contents of Mark's pockets we managed to contact someone in
his church. About 3 hours after the accident about twelve people,
including his wife, arrived at the hospital, but by this time nobody was
allowed to see him, and he was left in the acute care unit overnight.

He died overnight, presumably from his internal injuries (the only major
visible injuries were a large gash on top of his head that was bleeding,
and a puncture of his cheek).

I left the house expecting to have coffee with a friend; but instead was
yards away from a fatal accident and spent most of the day at hospital.

Mark's wife saw him leave the house in the morning. The next thing she
heard was that he had been hit by a car and had a severe head injury.
She never saw him alive again, and is now a widow.

Mark went out on his bike to help volunteer at an epilepsy centre. He
never arrived. Before he did anything else, he had been hit by a car,
left this world and everything in it forever, and stood before his Maker
to be assigned his eternal destiny.

Are you ready for what today may bring? If God summons you before the
sun sets, will it all be well with your soul?

Do you live each day reminding yourself that whilst you make your plans,
God can and does over-rule them all?

Have you said sorry to God for your sins, and are you walking closely
with Jesus Christ as your Saviour, so that at whatever hour he calls
you, you will be ready to stand before him?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Marathon 4

Marathon 4.... same course as last time, this time in 4:05 (just over 9 minutes faster). About the same over the first half - but kept things together a little more on the second half. I have no idea how you can train for the brutal hills of the second half (the net elevation gain is 900 feet over the marathon), other than doing much more training than I can justify!

Not much blogging's been going on of late - but sermons are still being regularly uploaded.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Christ alone, Christ always

John Calvin on John 14v5:
... whoever obtains Christ is in want of nothing; and, therefore, whoever is not satisfied with Christ alone, strives after something beyond absolute perfection.
All believe and acknowledge that the happiness of man lies in God alone: but they
 afterwards go wrong in this respect, that, seeking God elsewhere than in Christ, they tear him — so to speak — from his true and solid Dignity.
 Wherefore all theology, when separated from Christ, is not only vain and confused, but is also mad, deceitful, and spurious.
Matthew Henry on 14v6:

"No man cometh to the Father but by me." Fallen man must come to God as a Judge, but cannot come to him as a Father, otherwise than by Christ as Mediator. We cannot perform the duty of coming to God, by repentance and the acts of worship, without the Spirit and grace of Christ, nor obtain the happiness of coming to God as our Father without his merit and righteousness; he is the high priest of our profession, our advocate.”

"I am the way, the truth and the life" is, God-willing, the glorious text for the evangelistic outreach meeting tomorrow - messages from past weeks are uploaded on my website.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The lamb is prepared

Mark 14:1-11 (which I'll preach tomorrow, God-willing) is a very interesting passage in its structure:
  • In verses 1-2, Mark tells us that the Passover was near, and that the leaders of Israel were looking for a way to kill Jesus.
  • In verses 3-9, we are told how Jesus was anointed at Bethany, in preparation for his burial.
  • In verses 10-11, Judas goes to the leaders of Israel to betray Jesus to them.
The heart of the message of this portion is "hiding" in broad daylight. Jesus is the true Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world. At that time of the Jewish calendar, the Passover lamb chosen by each family would be in each house, waiting to be slaughtered at the hour God had chosen (Exodus 12). Its doom was sealed, but for now it lived until the appointed moment. The chief priests and scribes were unaware that ultimately that was all pointing forward to this awesome, holy week. God, in his wisdom and power, had chosen this Passover for his Son to be offered up in the true, gospel Exodus. Whilst they prepared the lambs for the old Feast at home, they conspired together to prepare the lamb for the New Passover that was soon to fulfil the old shadow and make it pass away. As the path to the lamb's death was paved, so Jesus' body was anointed for its burial as the appointed means for his death as the great gospel Lamb fell into place under his Father's oversight.

Friday, 15 October 2010

How many will be saved?

I've added to my website an essay I wrote in 2004, about three forms of (soteriological) "inclusivism" - i.e. three classes of different ways in which writers have answered "yes" to the question, "will more be saved than lost?". Here it is.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The big two (?) questions about home education

Someone planning to home educate asked me the other week - how do you answer the big two questions? I had to ask what those were, but here, having had a chew, are my brief answers:
  • Q. Won't your children be anti-social?
    A. At school, children are placed with those the same age as them and then go through the same experiences, for many years. i.e. They get a limited, narrow experience. Home-educators are free to take their children with them to all kinds of situations, meeting all kinds of people - much more like "real life" once school ends. Home education has the advantage here, and having far above average social, flexible children is the norm amongst home educators (at least, those we know).

  • Q. What about losing opportunities to witness to Christ at the school gate?
    A. That's a side-benefit. It's the secularism in the school buildings that's the major concern for me: the purpose of education is to educate my children, not to evangelise their peers' parents. But actually, home education does not mean that you lock your children indoors; it simply means that the parents are the primary educators. Where, when, and how, is up to you, and you can go and meet as many people in whatever situations you deem best.
Both these questions seem to assume that home education is about fear and avoidance of the outside world - lock 'em up, hide 'em away. That doesn't follow. There may well be home educators like that, but it's not of the essence of home education.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The family (audio MP3s)

There's one missing (broken technology - may get fixed next week), but I've added 3 sermons about family addressed to a men's conference in Kenya, to my sermons page here:

Saturday, 9 October 2010

But life works in you

These verses from Paul contain fantastic encouragement for those whose work is to spread the gospel:
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:11-12)
John Calvin (IIRC) called the Christian ministry being put to death every day. Sometimes ministers can really feel that. But here's the good news: you might feel like the living dead, but by the power of the Holy Spirit your words can make the dead to live. Death works in you as you feel Satan's malice in the assaults against you. But unstoppable resurrection life is working in those who hear your words.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Christian literature in Swahili

Looking for great, affordable Christian literature in Swahili? (Spoken in at least parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo)?

Go here:

(I realise it's statistically that many of my regular readers read Swahili.... I'm trying to help search engines find it, please do re-post the link if you can help too!).

"Roots are nice if you like that kind of thing, but they're not really that important if you have the fruits"

I just read a synopsis of an interview with a new political leader. You probably know who he is, but that's not important for this post; it's not personal, and his way of thinking is very widespread.

From the interview, I learnt that this new leader thinks at least three things:
  • Marriage does not matter, as long as are responsible and love your "partner" and children, providing a stable home.
  • Belief in God does not matter, as long as we have a tolerant society.
  • Tree's don't need roots, as long as some healthy, juicy fruit grows.
OK, he didn't actually say the third. But I'm presuming that's only because he wasn't asked the question.
  • Let this new leader look for a society where people set aside marriage as a long-term policy, and see how well the values of responsibility and loving provision thrive. (Actually this is already becoming pretty clear in the West, at least for those who haven't enjoyed the privileged social status of the gent in question to exempt them from some parts of the fall-out).
  • Let him look for a society that built itself upon atheism instead of Christianity for a century or more, and see how much tolerance there is to go around.
  • Because, he may as well look for a tree that never had any roots, and expect a tasty meal from it.
Yes, you can enjoy the tasty fruit after you chop the roots off. Perhaps you can continue doing so even for a few generations, where we're talking about civilisations and societies. But that's not quite the same as claiming that the roots aren't really important.

Ladies and gentlemen, our society's new leaders and visionaries. They don't dig or plant, though they do (as everyone in the West presently does) enjoy the generational fruits of the labours of those who did. That's not really the issue though, is it?

Ambassadors of Christ must not be publicly trivial

Preachers of the gospel are ambassadors of Christ. All Christians are this, but heralds of the good news are in a special sense. As public representatives of the Son of God, we are commanded to exemplify the joy and the power of the truths we proclaim. And our hearers are right to examine us to see if that is what we are doing.

I am not pointing the finger at anyone in particular. But as I look at the blogs of various gospel heralds, it seems not uncommon to find a regular stream of triviality. Christ appointed me to be no man's judge, but I must ask - is this triviality in keeping with our holy calling? Should the Word of God be regularly served up together with mindless tat?

I grant the truth contained in all the possible counter-protests. Yes, we're not meant to be dull, humourless, mono-dimensional individuals. We're not meant to present an image of Christianity as automatically and always restrictive, colourless, empty. Laughter is not a sin. Satire has its place in our teaching. But please - what's any of that got to do with it? If you can't tell the difference between that and what I just said, perhaps you're gone already? Yes, Jesus himself was never dull... but was he ever trivial in his public statements? And widely-linked blogs on the world-wide web are public statements, aren't they?

I didn't say that everything trivial is wrong, or that life must be empty of the trivial. That's not possible. I said the trivial should be kept in its own - very limited - place. Is a regular dose of the trivial served up to the world by a minister of Christ, the same as "keeping the trivial in its place"? I'm not laying down any fixed, extra-Biblical rules here to bind anyone's conscience. Rather I think these questions should be enough for any enlightened, Christ-loving conscience.

Again, I'm pointing at nobody in particular. If any of the following examples remind you of anyone or anything, then it's a coincidence - I've made them all up. But I ask... if you're a preacher of the gospel, and if you speak to the world through your blog, then is it really right for your readers to be regularly finding videos of monkeys playing guitars, worthless gibbering about this world's fading celebrities, needless jokes, rock songs performed by unlikely orchestras, football chat, and pointless links to novelty news stories? Do we want people to take us seriously, or not? Do these thinks help, or hinder, that mission? Do you think that if the Internet technologies had existed in the first centuries, that Christ's apostles would have used them to spread these kinds of things, or not? If not, why not, and why is it OK for us?

What is the purpose of the trivial on pastors' blogs? Does it advance the kingdom of God? Does it build people up? Will it help people to realise that we're deadly serious with every teaching that the rest of our society scoffs at? Does it show a clear alternative to the triviality-obsession of present Western society, and point the way to something better? Does it show a better, counter-culture... or show that we've been sucked into and the world's doomed culture? Does it indicate that our minds are being conformed, or transformed?

He who has ears to hear - let him hear. And make sure you don't protesteth too much!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Grace Magazine (Kenya) - 2010/4 - Health, wealth and prosperity

The read-online version of Grace Magazine (Kenya) is available now:

The download-as-PDF versions aren't there yet, and there's a Swahili article that hasn't had final proof-reading yet. But if you don't read Swahili, you probably won't miss that one... but if you do, or wanted to print it out as it goes to the printers here, check back again next week or so!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Conditional immortality - the hell which ends

I've added a new written article to my website:
Conditional immortality – the hell which ends
Historically, orthodox Bible teachers have taught with an impressive unanimity that hell is a place of unending, conscious punishment. Since the 20th century there has been a major challenge to this teaching amongst evangelicals. What do the teachers of a temporary hell say, and how should we weigh up their arguments?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Thoughts on the papal visit

A helpful set of thoughts on the Pope's visit to the UK from Guy Davies, here.

Marriage goes further than romance

In Western culture, what is love?

If we let the films, books, TV, newspapers, etcetera, reply, then then their answer is: "It is the chase - the getting, the initial thrill of crossing the boundary from acquaintance to romantic intimacy". Quite a difference from the stories and tales of childhood, where the goal was marriage, followed by "and they lived happily ever after".

Now consider real life. All being well, the "chase" happens once, and lasts something from weeks to months, or perhaps even a year or two. Whereas the marriage should last until death separates - perhaps 50, 60, 70 years.

And that's not 50+ years of chasing and discovering romantic intimacy for the first time. That would be like taking your driving test again every week, or starting primary school again every September. It isn't meant to work that way, and if you take it as your model then you'll find it doesn't work that way.

Western culture's holding up of "the chase" as the ultimate, important, central part of love is a sign of Western culture's slide back to infancy. Marriage goes further, deeper, better than simple romance. It goes that far, and then goes much further. But holding up the first stage as if it were the final goal is a recipe for frustration, and ultimately unfaithfulness, family and societal breakdown... which is what we've actually seen.

The task for Christians is to completely ignore the cultural nonsense and do the task as it is meant to be done, guided by Scripture and not passing cultural fancy. Show a better way, build a better model for our children, be salt and light, and a city on a hill that cannot be hid. When the final standing walls of the decaying culture crumble, that which is built on better foundations will remain. You'll enjoy it much more too.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Free online creationist books

Creation Ministries International are giving free access to online versions of seven of their most popular books, here.

Health, wealth, prosperity and the Spirit of Jesus

I penned this to fill a gap in our Kenyan magazine - a gap which turned out not to exist.....

How rich was Jesus?

Have “health, wealth and prosperity” teachers read their Bibles? Jesus...

  • Had no home of his own (Luke 9:57-58)

  • Had no Jewish money to pay the temple tax with (Matthew 17:25)

  • Had no Roman coins to show anyone (Mark 12:15-16)

  • Handled no money at all as part of his ministry, but gave that task to Judas (John 12:4-6)

  • Borrowed the donkey he rode into Jerusalem on (Mark 11:1-6)

  • Had nothing to give to anyone when he died, except his clothes and his mother (John 19:23-27)

  • Sent out his own preachers with no bread, no bag and no money (Mark 6:8)

  • Taught his people to pray for their bread each day, not to spend time worrying about food or clothes, but to leave such things to pagans (6:11, 26-34)

  • Taught the apostle Paul how to suffer hunger and need, and how to often be tired, in pain, thirsty, cold and naked – and with all that to be content and strong in Christ always (2 Corinthians 11:27, Philippians 4:11-12).

  • Was betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16)

Do preachers in Kenya today really follow Jesus, or are they betraying him too?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

What theistic evolutionists believe

What do those who believe we can combine the Bible and Darwinism believe?

That "the Bible and Darwinism are consistent" is easy to say. But what happens when you try to work that idea out systematically, and answer the difficult questions? When you have to make hard choices over apparently conflicting ideas, what will give?

I took a look at that issue in the case of UK-based Denis Alexander and his recent writings.

Now Creation Ministries International have done the same with US-based "BioLogos", whom Alexander also works with.

What do they believe? In short, that when it comes to the interpretation of the Scriptures, Jesus and his apostles could have done with BioLogos being around to help them...

Where is it heading to?

Now that "gay rights" groups like Peter Tatchell's "Stonewall" are part of the establishment, and now that their agenda is driving the agenda for sex education in state schools across the UK, parents have a duty to familiarise themselves with what these people actually believe.

In Peter Tatchell's case, that includes believing that 9-year-olds having sex with adults can be "normal, beneficial and enjoyable by old and young alike", and that it is "courageous" to challenge the "assumption" that such actions are abusive. Read his own words in their full context here.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

And if you lack self-discipline...

Go on, just one more, just one more.... what harm could come from it?

The answer is... this.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The stone the builders rejected

Jesus is the "stone the builders rejected". The parable he told in Mark 12:1-12 is quite remarkable - as ahead of time, he explained and warned the leaders of Israel of exactly what they were doing... and indeed, the parable enraged them and pushed them further in going ahead and doing it!

But though the builders rejected it, he is the one chosen of the Lord, and it is marvellous in the eyes of those who truly love God.

It will be the same with the church of Christ today. The builders of our societies and political leaders will commonly think nothing of the word of God or the people of God. But God shall overturn their verdicts, and establish his work all the same; a work which will last, when all that man is trying to built has crumbled away to nothing - a work which God is doing even today, all over the world.

What have we learnt?

Nine years ago was September 11th, 2001. That seems to be one of those days that everybody remembers where they were. My wife was in Kenya. I was in Wales. For those near a TV set, again and again we watched those horrifying images of huge planes, full of people and fuel, being used as guided suicide missiles with the aim of doing nothing except killing as many people as possible - people who were going about their "everyday" businesses.

I think only the exceptionally-dull-to-the-point-of-being-dead-whilst-they-are-alive failed to feel the impact of some great truths on that day.

The question, though, is whether we remember them. Now that the "light" which was shone onto reality at that moment has grown dim, do we still remember the things we saw at the time? Or now that it's darker, have people again persuaded themselves that those things are possibly not really there?

I mean things like...
  • The reality of evil. Evil, as an objective and horrifying entity which is powerfully at work in the world. In contrast to the belief that we are just super-evolved plankton and nothing we do has any cosmic significance at all. When those planes hit those towers, people knew it was folly to deny that evil is real. Do they still know it?

  • The uncertainty of life and the nearness of death. Thousands of people just got out of bed for an ordinary day at work - and the next morning were the headline in every paper across the globe. But as concerns this world, they were gone from it, into the next, never to return. Who knows what a day may bring? And yet how many now in the West or anywhere have learnt the lesson, and now live each day as if it were their possibly last? How many realised that they needed to seek and find God urgently, in case they were not granted another full day?

  • Not all people are the same. On that day there were villains and heroes. Some were so full of hate that they would gladly kill themselves just to inflict death on others too. Others gave up their own lives to save others.

  • The reality of false religion. You don't have to do a course in comparative religion to realise that any creed that encourages slamming hundreds of your fellow human beings into buildings in order to kill as many as possible cannot by any stretch be something that pleases God. False religion exists; there are not "many ways to God", we are not all "finding our own path". Some of us can be drastically deluded. Just because you don't hijack planes doesn't mean you're not equally as deluded.
Did the world take the warning? Yes, airport security is still not what it was, and the security services are no doubt active in all kinds of ways. But what are people doing with their lives today that is different from what they did on September 10th, 2001? Or is it just the same? Has it all faded, and we've persuaded ourselves through the constant round of entertainment and lack of seriousness about the things of God, that it was all some kind of unreal dream?

The Bible tells us that God is not mocked. His warnings, though dreadful, are ultimately very kind. They are intrusions of reality, to teach us who remain to go a different way. We're still alive today, 9 years on. God has given us opportunity to watch, and learn - to learn to keep short accounts with him through Christ, to live every day as if we may soon be summoned into eternity never to return, to realise that there is only one way and we must stick to it and life for it will all our might and strength. But for those who will not listen or learn and who think - even after such warnings - that the best thing to do is just have a good time in life as much as we can, only a fearful future discovery remains.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Book-burning is not Christian

The extent to which some parts of the media seem to be determined to blow up the significance of an obscure man's threat to burn a Koran is extraordinary. Why, I wonder? It's been a running news item even here in Kenya.

Here is a helpful response from Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute: "Book-burning is not Christian"

John 3:16

If I had ten sons, how many would I deliver over to a painful death for the sake of my enemies?

None, I think. I'm fairly sure of that. Even for my friends. Sorry!

But God had one, well-beloved Son, sinless, well-pleasing to him always ... and he delivered him up to save us, the sons of Adam, the rebel race. Not only to save us, but to give us life in all its fulness: that we should know him, that his Spirit should be given to us, and that we should have eternal glory waiting for us with him in heaven. He did this out of his love - a love which is for the whole world.

That's the good news, and why being a preacher is the best job in the world!

God so loved the world

Tomorrow in Eldoret we are beginning a new weekly evangelistic meeting on the Pioneer Estate where people will hear the gospel and know they can bring their friends to hear the gospel. Please pray! All being well, tomorrow I intend to preach from John 3:16.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The exception that proves the rule...

I can't help noticing, but...
  • If a church (though as you look into this one, it seems to be a personality cult around the leader) threatens to burn another religion's holy book, then it's a major international news event for a week, and presidents past and present will be commenting on it.
  • When other religionists burn down Christian-owned businesses, homes and churches (not books), on a regular basis (as happens in several countries), it rarely makes the news at all.
Should we conclude anything from this? Just asking...

The reality of beauty

A stimulating article from philosopher Roger Scruton, here, on the objectivity of beauty.

The sin of time-wasting

There seems to be a class of sins which in some Bible-believing circles have been almost abolished. By this I mean that they are more or less never mentioned.

I might just be listening to an insufficiently broad range of teachers, of course. But still - the absence does seem consistent; many of the silences seem to be in the area of what used to be called worldliness. I say "used to be", because that word itself seems to be falling out of use, as itself perhaps an obsolete category in our thought?

Moving on, one of the practically-abolished sins as I see it is the sin of time-wasting.

The Bible clearly teaches that man was not given a general grant to enjoy his life, using it as pleased him best, but instead given a mandate to subdue and fill the earth and replenish it. He was given what is called the "creation mandate" (Genesis 1:28); to develop and harness the various potentialities in the world and in his own gifting. He was commanded to live for God's glory, being fruitful. God planted man in a garden, to develop and cultivate it; a potent image intended to instruct all of us ever since.

The ten commandments contain a command which tells us not only to rest one day in seven, but to labour the other six. God's word gives place to rest and refreshment, but in a proportion which gives the major place to work.

We are all different, and Christianity is not Islam - there are no rules for all people of all places telling us at exactly what hours of the day or months of the year we must do this or that. Our constitutions are different. We are expected to be mature, using wisdom to judge our capacities and opportunities, and how to respond to the different demands on our time from different areas of life - bread-winning, family, church, good-works, study, leisure, etcetera. God gives us a large amount of freedom.

But "freedom" in the Bible is not the same as "a general grant to do whatever we feel like". Freedom is to be employed in the cause for which we were made - for God's glory. Ephesians 5:16 tells us to "redeem the time, because the days are evil". The word translated "redeem" literally means to "buy up" - to let nothing go to waste. The world is full of darkness; we who love God have the Spirit of God by which we can bring in light, if we use the time well. Even rest time should be planned and profitable rest time, not wasted rest time. Does that idea sound strange or contradictory? How can rest be planned or profitable? That's telling us how far we've fallen.

God says that to him who much has been given, of him much will be expected (Luke 12:48). Everybody who is alive has been given time, and God will at the final judgment require an account of what we did with it. Did we plan and invest it for his glory in fruitful service in the different areas of human life, or did we just drift along doing whatever felt good at the time?

If, after doing all your duties and necessities (sleeping, eating, washing, travelling, bread-winning, maintaining and repairing, etcetera), you have (say) 3 hours a day left to allocate, what will happen if you waste 2 of them? Simply, you'll achieve only one third the amount of a person who invests all three. In 30 years of your life, you'll accomplish what another person does in 10.

For the rest of the time, there are many strategies we can use to "double-use" some of our time. When travelling, you can listen a useful lecture or audio-book via an MP3 player. When walking to the shops with the children, you can talk to them about what they learnt in family worship or Sunday School (Deuteronomy 6:4ff), or meditate on it yourself. Whilst the kettle is boiling, you can tidy away the dishes instead of staring out the window. When you judge your body and mind are tired and you can do little more than sit down and passively consume, then passively consume a film that edifies and expands your mind, not whatever trash the TV networks happen to be serving up to sedate the channel-surfing masses.

I think that in many ears today this will sound like madness. It's the doctrine of a workaholic, who will send himself to the early grave! This again shows how far we've gone. Please, what's the point in remaining this side of the grave if we're just meant to watch Big Brother, talk for hours about nothing profitable, or browse the Internet looking at photos of people at parties or reading that this footballer said that about another footballer's words about the other? Why bother?

According to the Bible, only those who work can truly appreciate rest. Only when we use our six days well, will we truly enjoy God's marvellous gift of the weekly Sabbath. Only when our lives are invested properly, can we look forward with understanding to the heavenly rest which is coming, instead of looking back with regret that we won't have something more to show for it.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A dignified silence

Whatever happened to dignity? In the UK news this morning, we are treated to reports of a foul-mouthed public rant by an England cricketer who was dropped from the squad. More seriously there is the contents of the "memoirs" of a former prime minister, apparently regaling us with tails of his problems with alcohol, and his stinging verdicts on his successor's personality weaknesses and dastardly schemes.

Is this really suitable material for the public domain? Even if it is true, why does it need to be said at all? Who benefits? Who is built up and helped? What's the point?

The newspaper commentators see it as score-settling. Trying to set the historical record straight in one's own interests, before someone on the other side settles it in theirs. That sounds like a fairly likely explanation.

But at the root of it, there's unbelief. Unbelief in the doctrine of divine judgment. The only reason why we feel need to "set the record straight" in public, now, with our own point of view, is because we don't believe that God's going to do it infallibly one day - and in doing so render all our judgments void.

But if we do believe in the day of judgment, then a lot of the time if it's just a matter of me versus him/her, we can instead just keep quiet. A dignified public silence. We can do this without worry, because whatever preliminary verdicts of men are given out, they'll all be set aside when the all-knowing, all-wise, all-just one states it the way it really was. He will take care of it then; and for now we can get on with other things.

That's very liberating.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The blind and the lame

The Bible is full of echoes. The more you study the Bible in trust and obedience, the more you'll hear them. It's part of what convinces me that the Bible is the word of God... the echoes are so many, so meaningful, and so multi-layered, that it's immensely beyond the genius of any man to construct such an interplay - especially when those echoes are in different books by different human authors spanning the centuries.

Of course, you always have to ask yourself if you're hearing a real echo or not, or if you've been a bit fanciful. And you have to interpret exactly what is being said through the echo - what are the intended implications?

Sometimes something comes up rather wonderfully just through the different combinations of reading that you may be involved in - your personal studies, studies at church and in family, etc.

Here's one that I've just seen for the first time today, one part from my own reading and another through preparing a sermon. I'm going to quote the first passage in the ESV, because I think the interpretation of the rather obscure passage is rather good, keeping a literal idiom whilst making its meaning clear. This is 2 Samuel 15:3-9, describing how David established his kingdom over all Israel, coming to Jerusalem:
3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. 6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 8 And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David's soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” 9 And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
Now, in Matthew 21:1ff we read how the Son of David - a central theme of Matthew's - came to claim his kingdom in Jerusalem, as he headed into the final week and to the cross. The Lord comes suddenly to his temple, and symbolically purges it - anticipating the greater purging that was to come in AD70. And lo and behold, in this passage the same characters - the blind and the lame - appear as back in 2 Samuel when his predecessor came to his:
14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
It's an echo - no doubt about that; too much is correlated for it to be a coincidence. But how to construe it? What was Matthew, and ultimately the Holy Spirit, hinting at? Here's my stab:

When King David came to claim his kingdom, his enemies (the Jebusites) posited the blind and the lame as his enemies. They were of course speaking mockingly - even the blind and lame would defeat him! But David rose to the challenge, and came to claim his kingdom.

Here in Matthew the true David comes to claim his kingdom in Jerusalem, having ridden in on the king's donkey and come to visit his house (the temple) - and the blind and the lame are there to great him; not as posited enemies, but as his welcomers and friends, those whom he heals. Jesus came to bringing healing and peace to the nations (hence he rode the donkey, not the war-horse), not judgment and death. But notice by implication, that the scribes and the chief priests have taken the position of the cursed Canaanite Jebusites. As Jesus came to visit to judge/cleanse the temple he was purging it of the evils that had grown up under their oversight, and hence it was a fairly clear rebuke to them. But instead of receiving the rebuke, the rejected it and the rebuker. They identified themselves as instead of being God's chosen leaders, being Jehovah's enemies those who (ultimately in AD70) were the class waiting to be destroyed by the true David's determined vengeance.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Africans versus aid

In this interesting letter in the Daily Telegraph this week, Africans ask us to cease and desist with damaging "development aid"...

Home-Ed Help

Need some friendly help with home education? From some-one who's been there and knows the challenges? Need a support package to give you a helping hand? Try this:

I'm sure I don't need to declare conflicts of interest, but the proprietor is an in-law-in-law, and I can testify that I know one of Paula's daughters in particular and she's a great credit to her mum!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Behold your king

Just over 2 1/2 years ago, I began teaching through Mark's gospel in the Kijiji slum in Nairobi. Then we moved to Eldoret, and I began again from the start of the book, preaching on Sunday mornings when it was my "turn".

We've now reached chapter 11, where Jesus at last enters Jerusalem, the end of a long road - openly showing and declaring himself (and having the people declare him) to be the promised Messiah, come now to bring salvation to God's people, riding the donkey of prophecy (Zechariah 9:9). It feels like we've been travelling with him for those years as the disciples did - watching, listening and learning. The repeated teachings about the true nature of the Messiah's kingdom and what real Christ-honouring service means - in contrast to what the natural expectation of blind, fallen man is - has made a deep impression on me and I hope on my hearers, which I pray will bear lasting fruit for us all.

Two interesting things I learnt - firstly, riding a donkey does not in itself signify poverty or self-abasement; Solomon was set on a donkey when he inherited the kingdom from his father David (1 Kings 1:33); in fact, all the king's sons did (2 Samuel 13:29). Secondly, the popular idea (I read it in John Wesley's notes) that the same crowd that shouted out "Hosanna" later shouted out "crucify him!" is nothing more than a speculation, and an unlikely one on the face of it - the gospels tell us that those who welcomed Jesus as the Messiah were those who came up to Jerusalem with him; those who shouted "crucify him!" a few days later were the allies of the rulers in Jerusalem.

Now that we've reached this great moment, it's quite thrilling. For a long time, Jesus was content - actually deliberately chose - to remain away from open controversy and centres where premature attention would be drawn to him. But now, as the true king of Israel and of the covenant, and now that the planned time had arrived to ratify that covenant with his blood, he mounted the king's donkey and deliberately presented himself to the capital of Israel, God's chosen city, as the one for whom they had been waiting. The rulers complained and then schemed when Messianic praise was given to him - but the "nobodies" who had been waiting long for this moment rejoiced and could not keep quiet with their shouts of praise as the so-long longed-for King now strolled in to - at last - inaugurate his kingdom. This is especially exciting when you preach to lots of this world's "nobodies".

That kingdom was to be brought in through a painful cross, of which Jesus in those proceeding times had spoken often, though with so little understanding even from his nearest. But understand it or not, the kingdom had arrived. That ultimately meant devastating judgment for those who did not want it - but liberty and life now to be freely given to those who were waiting. Which are you? To the unbelieving eye, a carepenter-cum-popular-preaching was riding on a young animal into the city. To the eye that God had opened, the king was about to ascend his throne. Which do you see?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Things we know aren't true

A few days ago my eyes glimpsed upon a British Sunday newspaper headline. It was something to the effect of:
"Mothers choosing work over children has no long-term effects, study shows."
Ha, ha, ha.

I've also this week been reading a mathematical book. It had an interesting discussion about the way modern mathematics analyses ideas. One part has discussed the mathematicians' "tool" of "proof by contradiction" or "reductio ad absurdum". When given an idea, turn it around and look at the consequences of the reverse idea.

I wonder how many people would spot the obvious nonsense in the newspaper's headline more clearly if it had been phrased the following way. Wonder why the editor didn't choose one of these...
Time spent with your children is wasted, study shows
Or this:
Investing in your kids: pointless, say scientists
Because that's the logical upshot... if not investing in your children has no long term negative effects, then on the other side of the coin investing in your children can't have any long term positive effects either. You can't win with both heads and tails. If nothing is lost one way, then neither can anything be gained the other way.

It was one of those newspapers whose editorial slant would definitely like such things to be true. Perhaps you've heard of the preacher who wrote in the margin of his notes, "argument weak here - shout louder!" And in Western civilisation, there's no way to shout louder than for the Sunday newspaper to give it the main headline and proclaim that (drum roll) scientists, (all bow!) have produced a study (gasp!). Even in post-modernity, the mythical white-coats seem to have retained their trump card in popular cultural imagination: when academics speak, truth speaks! Those who dare to question them can only be reactionary fundamentalists, tsk tsk.

But no matter how loudly they shout, we still know it's not true. God gave children to parents for a reason, and part of that reason is so that they can raise them, and that's what works best. That's how God's world works, and all other things being equal, in the world that God constructed, following God's ways will never be equal to the alternatives. God's world works God's way, and we know it.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Clark Pinnock and the "wider hope" - salvation for the unevangelised?

I remembered a reason why I revamped my homepage. It was to make it easier for me to add to it articles I've written in the past that can still be of benefit to others. Today I've added this article: Clark Pinnock and the "wider hope" - hope for the unevangelised?

Monday, 9 August 2010

As I imitate Christ

Not too long ago I was teaching the adult Sunday School from Acts 20 - Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.

One thing that struck me is that Paul spent most of the time talking about... himself.

That seems quite surprising, when we consider that 1) Paul was speaking under inspiration and 2) in another place, under inspiration Paul said that he did not preach himself, but Jesus Christ the Lord.

But what was the summary of what Paul had to say about himself? When teaching, I put it like this: "You've seen what I've done; now you do the same."

I've found that thought a great challenge and spur to my thinking. Can I say the same to my people. When the time comes for me to pass on, will I be able to say...
"You know how I've lived and taught. Now that you are the leaders here, you make sure you do that, and don't do something different."
I can't remember ever hearing someone say that, or even teaching that we should. And yet Paul does, and thinks we should too (that's the point!). Or will I have to say:
"You know what I've taught you to do - make sure you obey those things."
That's not a bad thing to be able to say - but it's lacking. Against the apostolic, Biblical standard, it falls short. Biblical is "be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Jesus did not just teach us how to be servants; he also pointed to himself as the true example of it (Mark 10:35-45 - which I preached on last week). Paul followed this pattern in life as well as in doctrine. All of Christ's servants  - but especially pastors and church-planters - are expected to do the same. When the time comes for us to move on (whether through a new calling or incapacity or death), we should not need to say "now, for some new leaders, you'd better send to the seminary/denominational HQ/wherever". We should be able to say to those we've trained, "you know exactly what I've done, day in and day out - you do that".

I have the growing conviction that a lot of church-planting missionary work falls short because this goal is hardly even considered. The outsider comes in and does what he does - but it's not something that could be imitated by those inside the culture he's come to. Only someone with his education, specialised training and access to resources could do it. But that does not only apply in missionary situations. Even in the local church - how often do leaders automatically think of dispatching potential leaders off to the specialised institutions where they can learn the special secrets of the initiated? If we could just say to those potential leaders "you well know my practice - do that!", what kind of church growth might we, by the grace of God, then see? (Whilst we're on this aside, here's another one that I read in a book earlier today - notice in Acts 20:34-35 that Paul challenges the local church elders to remember how he, Paul, worked hard to provide for the needs of the poor - and then says that they, the local church elders, should do the same. That's interesting, isn't it... how many local church elders do you know who have followed Paul's instructions here?).

But whether church leader or not, if someone wanted to know how to serve Christ, what would you say? Could you say "watch and see"? That's meant to be the basic answer every right-walking believer should be able to give.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The awesome John Calvin

For as long as I've been blessed with sufficient discipline to prepare sermons properly, there have been two authors who I always consult where possible, regardless of the book or subject.

One of those is Matthew Henry; the other is John Calvin.

Calvin's penetrating insights into the ebbs and flows of whichever passage he is tackling are timeless, and the consistency of the quality of the comment is awesome.

I don't really know who reads this blog and I might be preaching to the choir here... but if you prepare sermons and don't routinely consult John Calvin, now's a great time to form a new habit. You couldn't possibly regret it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Matthew Henry on prayer

This delightful comment on prayer comes during Matthew Henry's commentary on the healing of blind Bartimaeus:
The waterman in the boat, who with his hook takes hold of the shore, does not thereby pull the shore to the boat, but the boat to the shore. So in prayer we do not draw the mercy to ourselves, but ourselves to the mercy.
Then in another place:
Though Christ knows all our needs, he desires to know them from us.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Home-page revamp

None of the content has changed (apart from a few extra sermons added from other places), but I've spruced up my home-page.

I had a few improvements I wanted to make, but they were waiting on being facilitated by some back-end work. I can't remember any more what those improvements were, but they're on a list somewhere... but the site is now in shape for me to easily add resources which will, God-willing, make it a lot more useful place for visitors in future.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The way up, is down

Jesus' teaching about true Christian greatness is very simple. The way up is down. To get higher, you must descend. The true honours of the kingdom belong, not to those who have raised themselves to great positions of authority, but to those who have lowered themselves into self-less service. The very greatest of all, is the one who has become the servant of all (Mark 10:44).

It is right to be ambitious. God made man ambitious. But like every other thing, godly ambition gets corrupted by the sinful selfishness. Godly ambition means wanting to get lower, get humbler - to where we can do more to serve for Jesus' sake. Even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his very self as a ransom for many.

I read a lovely example of this in Steve Saint's book which I mentioned a couple of months ago. Rachel Saint (Steve's aunt, sister of the martyred Nate Saint) has a very strong impression when she was converted that God was saying to her, that if she was faithful, then he would give her the privilege of serving a bunch of brown people who were still living in the stone age. If the word "privilege" just made you wince, then it's time to do some more learning in the school of Jesus.

Only by putting together the pieces in the book did I realise that it was some decades later that Rachel Saint became a Bible translator and live-in missionary amongst the jungle Waodani tribe - the tribe that murdered her brother. She became the one who taught them the Scriptures and the way of salvation, or "God's trail" as it is touchingly described, patiently, and slowly over a number of years.

In the worldly way of thinking, that is madness. But in Jesus' thinking, this was true greatness. She passed the tests, proved faithful, learnt how to get down lower and lower - until aged 46 she had descended far enough and was ready to be given the prize of spending the next 36 years being a nobody in this present world, but a great favourite in heaven as she served that jungle people. Awesome.

I think I see the same spirit too at work in this paragraph penned recently by a missionary wife:
Last week we visited two of the poorest families in the Church.  One family are relocating to the village because they cannot afford the 3 pound a month rent!  They had no money to transport their things so I offered a storing space we have, as they were going to leave all their things!  However when chatting it appeared that there would be nothing to leave - one stool.  No bed, no mattress, no chair, no nothing.  A young couple with a dear 9 month old.  We met in their hut, the 2 families had had nothing to eat for two days and the children were sitting in a daze, quietly resigned, no fuss.  Of course when we heard of the situation we made sure they had plenty of food.  What a sad, sad life some of these people live, the eldest child sent home from school as there was no money for fees.  One of these families is with us on a Sunday and last Sunday was just one of those days.  The smallest child pooped three times on the bathroom floor  (tmi!) as he never uses a toilet.  The mother is struggling with incontinence since the birth of her last child and the odours in our lounge last Sunday were not good.  (Another lady suffers the same!) The cushions soiled, soiled women, soiled children, manky house... these are really the times when we are called to love with that great compassion that the Lord Jesus has towards us!  To hold one's tongue and to take time to gently teach, to ignore smells, to value people, to accept their help with the dishes, to encourage and build up, not to belittle and make ashamed.  To do the opposite of Kenyan Society and to love... How I pray for a more genuine heart of love in THESE situations, not one that grumbles and 'fudder fudders' about the unpleasant job of sorting the loo etc etc.  That is what I am called to do, but only with God's enabling do I stand a chance of making progress.
Perhaps you have a good load of qualifications, career's going well, etc., and you're really making it. Very good; all these things are good in their place.

But never forget that in Jesus' kingdom, the way up is down. How are you really doing?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The way of the cross

Tomorrow, God-willing, I am resuming preaching from the gospel of Mark on Sunday mornings. (You can download some of the previous sermons here).

One of the repeating emphases in the gospel of Mark is teaching about the true nature of Jesus' kingdom. Jesus' kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world. Going the way of Jesus means going the way of the cross. Glory does not come now, but after taking up one's cross to die - again and again. The Master sets the great pattern; for our salvation, he shunned earthly glory and chose rejection, suffering and damnation at Calvary, before he rose again the third day.

In this setting, one of Mark's repeated refrains is to show us how little the disciples understood - even though it was spelt out in the clearest terms, again and again. The problem was not that Jesus' teaching was not plain enough; it was that it clashed with the road to glory that was in the disciples' hearts. And on this theme, Matthew Henry has some great words:
[Note] the confusion that the disciples were hereby put into. This [way of the cross] was so contrary to the notions they had had of the Messiah and his kingdom, such a balk to their expectations from their Master, and such a breaking of all their measures, that they understood none of these things, v. 34. Their prejudices were so strong that they would not understand them literally, and they could not understand them otherwise, so that they did not understand them at all.
What teachings are there that you or I don't understand - not because we can't understand them, but because we don't want to?

Friday, 23 July 2010

An antidote to materialism

When Jesus died, he had two - and only two - things to give away.

He had nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58), and no written will or solicitors were necessary. His clothing was divided amongst the soldiers (Matthew 27:35). And his mother according to his human nature, he bequeathed to the apostle John (John 19:26).

And then, rising from the dead, he inherited eternal glory, becoming the heir of all things in the heavens and the earth (Matthew 28:18), the reward of his perfect obedience to his Father.

He had nothing, but gained all.

That's a great encouragement to the poor people in my church, if by the Spirit of God we can drive it into their heads and hearts.

And a great antidote to but African and Western materialism, if we would just look beyond the few moments of this present life into what lies ahead in eternity for those who are in Christ.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Amen and amen

This from the Daily Telegraph; amen and amen. It's not so much about Bob Geldof, but about the whole approach he represents: Africans don't rate Bob Geldof, so why should we?

A big problem is that the people who profit from aid are the ones that the donors with warm-and-fuzzy-feelings get to see most. Those people, of course, tell him that the ever-increasing hand-outs are necessary and not to listen to the hawks. And not having real life experience of the effects on the ground of perpetual, indiscreet hand-outs, the donor, wanting to feel good and not mean, forks over - and the problems are perpetuated.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Grace Magazine (Kenya) PDF available

You can download the (free) PDF of Grace Magazine (Kenya) for printing here:

(The articles can also be read on-line - but I mentioned that before; the PDF was uploaded today).

Friday, 9 July 2010

Whatever he ordains is right

What should we desire in life?

The Bible's answer is simple: to know, love, serve and please God. To fulfil his will.

But it's a plain fact that only One man was ever born with that always central in his heart. The rest of us spend our lives struggling against our own desires - our plans, our way - and getting frustrated, saddened and angry when they go wrong.

Of course, some of this may not be wrong. God gave us the "cultural mandate", to advance in every area of human existence. And when that does not work out, there is a right kind of disappointment.

But often, our frustration is simply ungodly - it is because we had our plans, and we value them more highly than we do God's. Our plans were not part of God's plans - but we wanted them without any further conditions, regardless.

"Thy will be done" is the first petition for ourselves that we are taught to pray. It is a fundamental of all true prayer, and will be until we cross the river. It is a lesson that we will never have learnt fully, until all sin has been purged from us.

I can't be happy when I preach the word without seeing fruit, in and of itself. I can't be happy to see sin, disappointment, failure or disaster, for their own sakes.

But there is a rejoicing which should always be with us; because if we are walking with God and obeying his commandments, then the outcome is all part of his plan - that plan which is infinitely holy, infinitely wise and infinitely loving, with the gift of Christ for our sins right at its heart.

This is why Paul could tell us to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). The words "in the Lord" are crucial. Whatever happens, it is part of God's eternal will which progresses without delay or diversion from Calvary to Consummation. Even the pain is meant to be joyful pain. Nothing can separate us from Christ's love; and the "deaths" we are called upon to die in taking up the cross and serving Christ are only temporary. "Whatever he ordains is right" is not a hymn-line to be sung with dreary resignation, or Stoic fortitude - but with gladness and joy.

It's such a basic lesson - but oh, what a different witness we would present to the world if we learnt it better!

Grace Magazine (Kenya), issue 3

Issue 3 of Grace Magazine (Kenya) is now available for free reading here (and so are issues 1 & 2):

The PDF for downloading and printing is not there yet, but in a few days, God-willing.

The theme of this issue is Christ's resurrection, and here is the table of contents:
  • The resurrection: our comfort and confidence
  • Umuhimu wa kufufuka kwa Kristo Yesu
  • Love in the family: mothers
  • Do Christians “Keep the Sabbath”?
  • Christ's resurrection for his people
  • How to use the Lord's Day
  • The church's attitude to homosexuals
  • Christian books about the resurrection of Christ
  • The book of 1 Thessalonians: An overview
  • Announcements

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A lesson learnt...

Today after our prayer meeting, one of the regular attenders asked about how we gain salvation.

My response was to ask him a few questions to find out what he means by that. Round here, it often means "how to get rid of the problems of this life".

He seemed to have a proper understanding, so we moved on to explaining the gospel. This is in a very basic way, as he was much more comfortable in Swahili, and mine is rather crummy. Thankfully another church member was involved! It is thrilling to explain the gospel, even at a very basic level, in another language. And my hearer was not very educated, so very basic was what was needed.

Anyway, after we had talked for a bit and there was nothing more to say except for him to go away and hopefully digest and respond to it all in the presence of God, I offered to pray for him.

Even as I offered, I was a bit concerned that he might have the common Kenyan understanding - that the "pastor"'s prayers were what would now bring him salvation. Then he might go and tell people he was saved - because I prayed for him! But, I figured, I could make it clear in the prayer that we were praying that God will help him to find Christ, not that we were actually somehow wonderfully bringing Christ to him - which, as I say, is what people think pastors have the power to do. (And, once the prayer is over, now assume is actually done, with the predictably disastrous results of "churches" full of unsaved people).

My really big mistake was to ask God to give him help by the Holy Spirit.

What was that I just said?

Mmmm, that sounds a bit heretical. Don't quote me! Anyway, you see, as soon as those words had departed from my lips, there was a crash. We opened our eyes... to find the fellow lying on his back on the floor. He'd fallen over backwards.

Because in Kenya, people generally believe that when you receive the Holy Spirit, you fall over backwards. Really.

I'm not sure which Western con-man to thank for originally bringing that doctrine in, but I only wish we could spread the Biblical doctrines quite as effectively as his followers have. I really hope that by now anyone who's been attending our church for a while realises that we think such teachings are ridiculous and dangerous tosh. But again and again I am humbled by realising how slowly spiritual light dawns, no matter how clear we try to be on what the truth about salvation is.

Did our friend think he had to fall over to show us that he was believing the things that were spoken, i.e. sincerely? Or was his whole expression of interest phoney, and he thought we'd be impressed or taken in when he fell over? I'm too far separated from the thought-world of people like our friend to be able to make a guess about what he was thinking.

The floor was concrete, and our friend did not seem very compos mentis after that. I'm not sure which bit he landed on, as I had my eyes closed - but given the crack, I wouldn't be surprised if it was his head. We tried to explain to him that the real work of the Holy Spirit is in making people hate their sins and trust in Jesus alone - nothing to do with strange phenomena like falling over! And then I had to dash home, because it was almost dark and it's not safe to stay out after that.

Acts 14 shows us what Paul thought when the people of Lystra started to make sacrifices to him. I felt today like I could understand a little bit - you try to make the gospel plain and simple, and people yet have something quite different in their heads. How we long that God would dispel the darkness in their minds and shine his light!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The God of the Exodus

>From Vaughan Roberts' "God's Big Picture", I got this beautiful three-part division of the book of Exodus:
  1. The Exodus itself (approximately the first 18 chapters): The God who delivers
  2. The law given at Mount Sinai (chapters 19-24): The God who demands
  3. The Tabernacle described for building (25-31): The God who draws near
Combining this with a similar broad-level overview from Arthur Pink that incorporate Genesis, and adding in the covenant as a separate point in its own right which I think should be done, we get this clear five-part overview of salvation:
  1. The call of Abraham: God chooses his people
  2. The Exodus: God redeems his people
  3. Mount Sinai: God covenants with his people
  4. The law: God demands from his people
  5. The tabernacle: God dwells with his people
And then we can see the centrality of Christ in each of those acts:
  1. God choose his people in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)
  2. God redeemed his people through the precious blood of Christ, the gospel Passover (John 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:7, etc.)
  3. God brings his people into the New Covenant of which Christ is mediator, high priest, and whose blood ratifies the covenant, etc. (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 8-10, etc.)
  4. Christ is the New Covenant law-giver (Matthew 5-7), and the Spirit of Christ is the one who teaches his people the love which is the heart of the law (Romans 8:1-4, 13:8-10, etc.)
  5. Christ himself is the gospel tabernacle, the dwelling of God amongst us (John 1:14, 2:19-22, etc.)
This could surely be taken further, if we bring in the pillar of fire, the manna in the wilderness ("I am the bread who came down from heaven..."), the conquest and reception of the inheritance under Joshua etc...

Studying Exodus is thrilling!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Staggered up the hill...

Here's the elevation profile of today's marathon:

I did it, but there was quite a bit of walking from 20 miles onwards! I'm not sure if it was "hitting the wall"; my legs felt reasonable but I felt quite faint. It was fairly hot and I had some cold, so I think that weakened me a bit.

First half was about 1:47, second half about 2:28, for a total of 4:15. A run of two halves!

Things we'd like to be true...

The football world cup gives a good illustration of the human capacity to believe things to be true on rather flimsy ground.

About 4-6 years ago, I realised that the 2-yearly hype in the news media about how England could this time "go all the way", could well get to the final if they played well, etc., was not based upon reality.

Look at the facts. England reaching the semi-final of a major tournament is an event likely to happen, ooh, every 20 years or so. And if we're talking about what England can do without home advantage, then the facts are rather stark and simple. England have only ever reached one major semi-final. One semi-final.... let that sink in and remember it the next time a tournament comes round and you read the hype in the newspapers.....

The obvious natural limit for England based on their ability is about the quarter final. To go beyond that will need a lot to go well, including factors beyond our control (good draws, other big teams having howlers on the day, etc.). There are clearly around 10 teams in the world who are at least as good or significantly better than England. We'd like to think we're similar in standard to (for example!) Germany, but the facts of many years (i.e. not just based on a fluke here or there) say that they are a footballing powerhouse on the world scene, and we are a football powerhouse within the British isles.

Sorry if that sounds unpatriotic. My real point was to point out the difference between what English football supporters can persuade themselves to believe, and what the reality is, as an example of what human beings do all the time.

Aiming for the top is one thing, and is not to be discouraged.

But thinking that you are near the top when plainly you're not, is self-delusion. Telling yourself that you're far better than you are, year after year, is silly and pointless: and yet a fact of human existence as moral beings. Isn't it?

So let me ask the question, if we turn from football performance to moral performance - because I think I see a parallel. Is man actually what he thinks he is? Are we as "good" as we like to persuade ourselves we are? Or in God's eyes, is it rather the case that we actually fall far short of his right standards, and fully deserve his anger and judgment as the Bible says? And all this, notwithstanding our ability to tell ourselves that "we're pretty good - no-one can blame us for not being perfect", etc.? Our ability to consistently delude ourselves about ourselves is surely one of the many good proofs that man is a fallen creature, who needs redeeming.

Well, perhaps you'll think the parallel is a bit flimsy. I might agree - this is a blog after all, not a university thesis. But even so, does not the human capacity for consistent, long-term self-deception need some explanation?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A run up a hill...

The picture above is, all being well, miles 6-26 of my next marathon, on Monday.

We start at an altitude that fit people feel out of breath at if they have not acclimatised (7000 feet above sea level is about 2100 metres) - and then go up! And up, and up.... Net altitude gain somewhere around 900 feet. It's that final steep ascent beginning in mile 20 (i.e. mile 15 on the above graph) that looks like the make-or-break time. I've never run that bit before, but you can see it's as steep as the bit at the beginning of the graph which I have run, and that bit is very steep.

Other than finishing, my first target is to beat my Dublin marathon finishing time - 3:40 on a flat course at sea level. My training times have not been quite as good as before that marathon, but pretty close. If it's a really hot day it won't be possible, but we'll see!


From various news sources:
"Women should be able to continue to abort their unborn babies up to 24 weeks because the baby can't feel pain, according to a controversial review of the scientific evidence."
"Interesting" logic. So, presumably it's OK to kill people who are under general anaesthetic, because they can't feel pain. "Yes, your honour, I'm not guilty of any crime here. I sedated my victim first, so when I hacked his head off / destroyed his limbs with a suction device / etc., he did not feel it!"

It's amazing how confused fallen humans can get about the simplest things, once we've decided we want something that God has forbidden, and what twisted and perverse reasonings we can come up with.

It ought to be clear... but the reason why it's wrong to kill babies is not because of how much pain they do or do not feel at the time.

It's because they are human beings.

Friday, 25 June 2010

He said what?

"Mitigating, Michael Hodson said Charlton was not motivated by self-interest but had been trying to create a fantasy world to feel better about herself."

I'm guessing this lawyer was from the "fantasy world" of self-esteem gobble-de-gook?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

How wonderful!

According to the atheist, life as we know it is simply the product of
the struggle for survival. It's the result of competition for limited
resources, as we've thought tooth and nail with our evolutionary

Quiet wonderful and amazing, then, that it's turned out so well, don't
you think?

For example, the incredible range of tastes and complexions in all the
foods that humans can eat. It seems to have turned out precisely as if
we were meant to enjoy food, and find pleasure in the many different

Or consider the beauties of the natural world - waters, green dales,
sunsets, shimmering oceans, etcetera. It all looks as if it was made to
be enjoyed. What a wonderful coincdence that no purpose or plan brought
about that beauty for us to enjoy, without it ever being intended!

Consider the variety of life as a whole and all its incredible breadth
of experiences. Given that we are allegedly just Darwinian
eating-and-mating machines, it's pretty amazing that we should have such
varied and interesting existences, isn't it?

Or look at the realities of morality, as all humanity understands itself
to be under laws of right and wrong - and that right is to be chosen
whilst wrong is to be rejected. It is a great blessing that people came
to believe that (even if they live it out very inconsistently),
notwithstanding the supposed fact that life is an undirected cosmic
accident, n'est ce pas?

How about music, and all of its beauty and variety - all the different
sounds and harmonies, together with our capacity to enjoy it. Perhaps we
might not have expected that, given that we are told that the only real
uses of noise are to warn off enemies and to attract a mate. But all the
same, it's a marvellous set of coincedences that have led it to turn out
exactly as if it was designed for our pleasure again, don't you think?

The world of the atheist thinker must be a painful one. His creed tells
him to expect nothing accept accidental by-products of the fight to
reproduce. But the world he actually lives in throws up infinitely more,
as a matter of daily routine in every area of existence. One further
great mystery is how little today's campaigning atheists seem to notice
these facts.

Or putting it another way: as an explanation for reality as it really
is, atheism simply does not work, and atheists are people who are living
in denial.