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.