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Top 13 in 2013

top13Dear Subscribers/Readers… I’ve switched blogs to christthetruth.net. If you haven’t yet switched, please do.

My blogging output hasn’t quite been what it was in previous years. But there are still some posts that got my blood pumping in 2013. If you missed them first time around, here they are again.

13. Emma’s epic 4Thought went out and, inexplicably, received a record number of thumbs downs (as well as a record number of thumbs up). We responded…

… Read the whole post ON THE NEW BLOG

Christmas in Dark Places

Please share…

It used to be summer when Christmas came round,
Neath tall southern skies, over sun-scorched ground,
With the backyard cricket, the barbies, the beach,
And munching on mangoes to watch the Queen’s Speech.
The slatherings of sunscreen, the glorious glare
And toasting the glow in the warm evening air.

It used to be summer… when I was young.
A golden age in a land far flung.
But there came a point, I crossed a divide,
Went up in the world and summer had died.
December is dark now, the nights close in,
So we huddle together as kith and as kin.

It’s winter now when Christmas rolls round,
We celebrate still though with different surrounds.
We mull the wine and strike the matches,
Light the fires, batten the hatches,
Gather around the warming beam
Of family love or a TV screen.
So safe inside, no place to go,
We toast marshmallows and let it snow.

Our summer’s gone, if you’ve been around,
you’ve felt the fall: life’s run aground.
We’ve gone up in the world, seen summer die.
So what’s our hope? The dark defy?
Stoke the hearth? Retreat indoors?
Rug up warm with you and yours?
The shadow reaches even here,
But THIS is the place for Christmas cheer.

It’s dark, in the bible, when Christmas is spoken.
Always a bolt from the blue for the broken.
It’s the valley of shadow, the land of the dead,
It’s, “No place in the inn,” so He stoops to the shed.
He’s born to the shameful, bends to the weak,
becomes the lowly: the God who can’t speak!
And yet, what a Word, this Saviour who comes,
Our dismal, abysmal depths He plumbs.
Through crib and then cross, to compass our life.
To carry and conquer. Our Brother in strife.
He became what we are: our failures He shouldered,
To bring us to His life: forever enfolded.
He took on our frailty, He took on all-comers,
To turn all our winters to glorious summers.

It’s Christmas now… whatever the weather,
Some soak in the sun, some huddle together.
But fair days or foul, our plight He embraces.
Real Christmas can shine in the darkest of places.

The origins of Halloween lie with the church. This video shows how medieval Christians saw Halloween as “a final fling” for the powers of darkness, safe in the knowledge that the Light  is always stronger. (For more on the thinking behind the video, read this).

And please share on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Vast armies undead do tread through the night and
In hordes march towards hapless victims to frighten.
They stumble in step with glass-eyes on the prizes;
Bunched hither, hunched over in monstrous disguises;
In sizes not lofty but numb’ring a throng;
To unleash on their prey the dreaded DING DONG.
Small faces with traces of mother’s eye-liner,
Peer up to the resident candy provider.

And there to intone ancient threats learnt verbatim;
They lisp “TRICK OR TREAT!” Tis their stark ultimatum.
Thus: region by region such legions take plunder.
Does this spector-full spectacle cause you to wonder?
Just how did our fair festive forebears conceive,
Of this primeval practice called All Hallows Eve?
The answer, if anyone cares to research,
Surprises, it rises from old mother church.

On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.

The future is futile for forces of evil;
And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.
For this is the nature of shadow and gloom;
In the gleaming of glory there can be no room.
What force is resourced by the echoing black?
When the brightness ignites can the shadow push back?
These ‘powers’ of darkness, if such can be called,
Are banished by brilliance, by blazing enthralled.

So the bible begins with this fore-resolved fight;
For a moment the darkness…. then “Let there be Light!”
First grief in the gloom, then joy from the East.
First valley of shadow, then mountaintop feast.
First wait for Messiah, then long-promised Dawn.
First desolate Friday and then Easter Morn.
The armies of darkness when doing their worst,
Can never extinguish this Dazzling Sunburst.

So… ridicule rogues if you must play a role;
But beware getting lost in that bottomless hole.
The triumph is not with the forces of night.
It dawned with the One who said “I am the Light!”

Change of Address

CTT2I’ve been here for nearly 7 years – 12 000 comments, 2148 posts.

Time for a change! I’m now self-hosted at christthetruth.net

Come on over to my new place, we’ll continue the discussion. (Please update your feeds/subscriptions if need be,)

 

New Blog – Help Needed

New BlogThanks to Kev, I have a new blog design at christthetruth.net.

I’m going to jump over to the new site just as soon as I can figure out one problem, and for this maybe one of you can help me…

With wordpress.com blogs you embed youtube videos using the code (without the spaces):

[ youtube = url ]

With self-hosted blogs you just write the url. Is there any way I can automatically find and replace all [ youtube = url ] and replace with the video’s url.  Been searching online for a solution for hours. I’m pretty sure the answer will involve using my regex plugin, but don’t quite know the patterns to use.

Any help gratefully received in comments.

 

Sifted but Lifted

siftedThese are stunning verses from the night before Jesus’ death:

‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32)

Notice these 10 contrasts:

  • Satan makes a fearful proposal. Jesus gives a fearful permission.
  • Satan treats Simon like an inanimate object. Jesus calls Simon by name – three times in one sentence.
  • Satan is ruthless with Simon. Jesus is personal.
  • Satan sifts Simon before the world. Jesus lifts Simon before the Father.
  • Satan is weaker than Jesus but Simon is weaker than Satan.
  • Simon thinks of himself as iron for Jesus (see v32). Jesus doesn’t call him Peter (‘Rock’), He considers Simon to be as ‘flaky’ as wheat.
  • Simon thinks his resolve will motivate his brothers (v32), Jesus knows it will be his weakness that strengthens his brothers (v31).
  • Jesus prays for Simon, but His support will include the need for Simon to turn back.
  • While Jesus prays for Simon’s faith not to fail. Simon fails big time.
  • It’s not Simon who “fail’s not”, it’s Jesus’ prayer.

Live in the Story

The guys at Together for Adoption have just launched a new initiative called Live in the Story. Already there are some great resources on the website and that will build over time.

They asked me to voice the introductory video, I think, because reedy nasal whining is very now. So in this video I attempt the word “Mommy” and MLK’s “I have a dream” speech. Both were bold undertakings. I found “mommy” harder.

TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024In this podcast we discuss 6 things atheists get right.

  1. We are all atheists with regard to the vast number of deities ever proposed
  2. A world with God is very different to a world without God
  3. Being good in order to get heaven is perverse
  4. Suffering is real
  5. Religion is a terrible slavery
  6. “God” is a monster (Hitchens’ god anyway!)

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[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP018.mp3]

Happy Friday

Language is a beautiful, beautiful gift. Used, mainly, to deceive, demean and torment. Enjoy.

Here’s proof that banter isn’t dead.

And here’s some edutainment about oceans:

lakes_and_oceans

Click here for full size

Preaching-George-WhitefieldThat was how Wesley and Whitfield would describe their evangelistic efforts.  Sounds so simple: just offer them Christ.

And it’s so joyous too.  Nothing brings home to me the graciousness of my Lord as much as offering Him to others.  The availability of Jesus is so tangible when you just lift Him up before people and say “Want Him?  He’s yours.”

But it’s so easy to fall short of it.

Here’s how:

* We offer them “cool” not Christ

We spend our time reassuring people that they don’t have to be a geek to be a Christian.  Christians can be trendy too.

* We offer them “credibility” not Christ

We spend all our time reassuring people that they don’t need to be brainless to be a Christian.  Christians can be clever too.

* We offer them a creed not Christ.

Creeds are essential, I’m not suggesting we can divorce the personal from the propositional.  But teaching people 6 doctrines is not offering them Christ.

* We offer them a course not Christ.

Courses are brilliant, I’ve seen many people become Christians on things like Christianity Explored.  But offering a course is not offering them Christ.

Now, good evangelism might have all sorts of apt cultural references and thoughtful critiques of modern assumptions. It will certainly convey creedal truths and if it’s followed by courses where Christ is also offered – that is an excellent thing.

But whatever else happens, it ought to offer Christ, oughtn’t it?  Shouldn’t it placard the Person and work of Jesus and ask “Will you receive Him?”

Here’s some reasons I think we don’t.  (And I genuinely say “we” – I fail at this all the time.)

1. We think cool, credibility, creeds and courses are more attractive than Jesus. Of course we’d never say that.  We’d rarely dare to articulate the thought.  But I wonder whether it’s there.

2. We imagine that the gospel is a process rather than a Person. Again, if cornered we’d swear black and blue that faith is an event and the gospel a revelation. But if our evangelism is all processes perhaps we’ve begun to think of the evangel itself as a process.

3. We don’t honestly think people will become Christians. Allied to point number 2, we’ve bought into some social science view of conversion and reckon that “people are much further back these days” and “we just need to bring them on a few steps towards faith.”

4.  We don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. We don’t actually think the power of Almighty God is unleashed when the Word is preached. So instead we trust to the resources of the flesh.

5. We refuse to be as vulnerable as the Lord we proclaim. Paul knew that a foolish message (1 Cor 1:18-25) meant a foolish people (v26-31) and a foolish messenger (2:1-5).  But we don’t want to be cruciform evangelists, opening our arms to a world who will despise and belittle the word of the cross.  We want to show the world how wise and strong we are.

What do you think?

Anything to add?

Don’t-Be-a-Slave-to-Writer’s-BlockHello there. Sorry I haven’t been writing very much here recently. I’m trying to write “321” the evangelistic book right now. Please pray for that project if you remember. And perhaps you can help me with something….

At one point in the book I talk about the four fundamental realities you can choose between in the beginning – nothing, chaos, power or love (see here for the seed of the idea). Was wondering if you had any good quotes for each of the options.

If you believe in the beginning there was nothing – life is absurd, meaningless, hopeless.

If you believe in the beginning there was chaos – life is endless struggle and power plays.

If you believe in the beginning there was power – life is a slavery to almighty god or law or fate.

If you believe in the beginning there was love – life is about finding your place in God’s family of love.

Do you have any quotes from nihilists, ultra-Darwinians, determinists, theologians or others that would put flesh on those bones?

 

Psalm 143 sermon

Psalm 143

TEXT

POWERPOINT

AUDIO

…The Book of Psalms is Jesus’ prayer journal. But don’t worry, He’s very happy for us to be reading His prayer journal. It’s not confidential. We’re meant to own these prayers ourselves and the Spirit helps us to pray Jesus’s prayers to the Father.

This is such a relief. Because, just speaking for myself, I’m very bad at praying. And when I feel desperate and faint and spiritually thirsty, I’m just no good at articulating that, whether before God or anyone else for that matter.

So, how wonderful to know that Jesus has felt those things Himself. He knows what it is to be flat on His face in desperation, sweating blood, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He knows about betrayal and loss and excruciating pain. He knows about the valley of the shadow of death. He knows how it feels to be utterly ashamed, utterly alone, utterly godforsaken.  God the Son knows ALL these feelings.

More than this, He knows how to pray through them. And here are those prayers. What a relief! Because we’re terrible at praying. Yet Jesus prays for us. And then He says, “Why don’t you join in? Why don’t you pray my prayers? I’ll give you my Spirit to help you, and now you pray to God like I pray to God. I call God “Abba, Father”, why don’t you call God what I call God? And why don’t you pray to God what I pray to God? I’ll even give you a whole prayer book of 150 prayers – they cover EVERY situation. So use my prayers, the Spirit will help you and my Father will hear you.”…

sadface

I’ve heard it from a few people now… stories of depressed friends going to their GP and at some stage being asked, “Are you, by any chance, an evangelical Christian?” Have you heard similar tales?

I’m not sure whether we’ve ended up on any official lists of “predisposing factors” but it certainly makes you think.

So let’s ask a tough question: Is there anything about evangelicalism (as opposed to other kinds of Christianity) that makes depression even harder? Or even, perhaps, more likely?

Is it worse to be an evangelical Christian when you’re depressed?

I can think of two reasons it shouldn’t be and two reasons it might be…

READ THE WHOLE POST ON EMMA’S BLOG

Happy Friday

Blurred Lines (more from baracksdubs)…

Rockin’ out

Apparently the last two photos are faked. But the first 8 are incredible enough…

I want David Michalek’s camera and Alan Rickman’s gravitas

And here’s a lovely story from Douglas Adams. (Am I imagining things or does a famous evangelist (J John??) claim this story as their own?)

two-boys-workingThere is a slavery on the near side of sonship.  (Galatians 4:7)

And there is a slavery on the far side of sonship.  (Galatians 1:10)

On the near side it’s death.

On the far side it’s life.

On the near side it’s flesh.

On the far side it’s Spirit.

On the near side it’s your righteousness on show.

On the far side it’s Christ’s righteousness in you.

On the near side you don’t know who you are without it, so you step it up.

On the far side you do know who you are without it, and you keep in step.

.

There is no way from slavery to sonship.

And there’s no way to true slavery except sonship.

.

All of which means…

We must refuse to be slaves ascending to higher degrees of slavery.

We must look away from any schemes of progressive slavery.

We must proclaim sonship.

And not because we’re not into works.

If we want true works, we must strip away works.

We must be left bare in the presence of God with nothing but Christ for our justification.

We must know who we are without our works – sinners clothed in Christ.

We must know our sonship not in ourselves but in the Son.  This means by grace alone.

Having contributed nothing, we belong entirely.

And now, in Him, we can do no other than gladly take our place in the Father’s business.

But it is the Father’s business.

The only gateway to true work is sonship.

The only Gate is the Son.

TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024

In this episode we discuss the crucial questions: Which Atheism? and Which God?

In future episodes, we’ll cover “What atheism gets right”, “What atheism gets wrong” and finally “Hot Topics”.

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SUBSCRIBE (and view show notes)

[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP017.mp3]

Talk on the Book of Job

job miserable comfortersEvery now and then I attempt a 40 minute summary of Job.

Here’s a recent effort:

DOWNLOAD

NOTES BELOW…

Continue Reading »

If there is no God…

Last year I was in a kind of debate with Andrew Copson – Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA). His final line of the evening was a plea for us all to “be good for goodness sakes.”

The line sounds twee but there’s a genuine point that deserves our attention: Goodness for the sake of ‘spiritual reward’ is neither necessary, nor desirable. In fact it’s pretty ugly. If a religious person is motivated towards goodness simply by celestial carrots and sticks (which some are) then you can understand a humanist’s protest. I hear the criticism loud and clear, and I wrote these four posts called “Why be good?” as a response.  Only the gospel saves us from immorality and moralism.

But if you’re unaware of the gospel, then your view of religion will probably sound that of like BHA President Jim Al-Khalili:

I have often felt offended by the misguided notion that people require a religious faith to provide their moral compass in order to lead a good life. Reason, decency, tolerance, empathy and hope are human traits that we should aspire to, not because we seek reward of eternal life or because we fear the punishment of a supernatural being, but because they define our humanity.

We might want to be curious about why such traits define our humanity, and who gets to say, and why the ones mentioned by Al-Khalili are so darned anaemic, and why he didn’t also identify deep-seated characteristics like greed, hypocrisy and violence. We might want to point out that Christian faith brings far more to the table than ‘a moral compass’. Actually it’s a vision for the whole terrain and an accounting for why and where we fit into a moral order that is very old and runs very deep.

But we’re not going to mention those things. We’re just going to point out the terrible danger of moralism here.

Suppose that I’m a humanist who has unplugged the celestial CCTV and now I’m free to be good for goodness sakes. What will that look like? Well I’m still going to get outraged by ‘inhuman’ behaviour – good. But now God isn’t the ultimate court of appeal and dispenser of perfect justice. No, the ‘moral-outrage buck’ stops with me. Since God has been deposed, I’m going to have to mount the highest horse.

And, as far as godless high-horseing goes, get a load of this: [Read from the bottom upwards. RD was responding to this]

DawkinsOutraged

Dawkins has never let ignorance of a topic prevent him from weighing in with the full weight of his moral indignation. But feel the indignation.

When one tweeter asked him whence his moral compass (given Darwinism and all), he responded:

Idiot that I am, I’m mining the quote – but I think it unearths a deep problem for those who let go of “God” but want to be “Good.” The problem is not in acting morally- of course not. The problem comes in adjudicating the morals and in acting The Moral One.  Wonderfully for the Christian, the Father adjudicates and the Son is the Moral One, but what’s the situation for the humanist?

They are above the non-existent ‘God’, they are above the religious who (they claim) are only good for dubious reasons, and they are above nature (‘red in tooth and claw’) and their own selfish genes. They have risen above everything else in all reality… in order to be good.

How does a humanist not avoid hubris at this point? How do they not avoid moralism?

Dostoyevsky famously said “If there is no God, everything is permissible.”  But nihilism isn’t the only danger. Dawkoyevsky’s dilemma is this: “If there is no God, everything is puritanical.”