Wednesday, 29 February 2012

He makes water blush

Preparing a sermon on John 2 for this Sunday and I came across a beautiful line trying to describe what happened, when Jesus turned water into wine:
"the conscious water saw its God and blushed" (Cranshaw as quoted in Hendriksen, John, 118)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Matthew Parris is partly right

Having earlier mocked the new atheists for their faux-courage, Matthew Parris in a recent Spectator article, provocatively suggests that it is the atheists, who in fact, are our allies because they take God seriously. This unlike the pretend agnostics who applaud faith whilst being concerned that it merely play the role of purveyor and preserver of culture. I'm not sure I buy Parris' entire argument. For one thing atheists whilst being more open in their opposition to God, have also been known to declare that believers can assent to whatever beliefs they want, just so long as they don't adduce them in public (So Dawkins et al). Second, it's a bit of a misnomer to say that the new atheists are our allies simply because they take God seriously. The Bible gets the issue right when it declares that even demons believe in God and shudder (James 2) and yet, they are headed for the hottest part, of darkest miserable hell. The issue therefore is not simply that of taking God seriously - the issue is one of right/true belief in God which then leads to right/true action towards God. The old Sunday school puts it well - Trust and Obey / for there is no other way / to be happy for eternity / but to trust and obey. I kind of see though, what Matthew Parris is getting at namely, that agnostics (and other cultural pretenders) should stop patronising us Christians.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Infidels lack courage

Is David Bentley Hart's perceptive analysis of the current breed of new atheists. He writes:

“’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).”

Read the whole thing here 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday Fun: The mind of toddler

Our little one is not yet a toddler, but I think the Mrs would concur...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Bible is not enough!

Cessationist or not? That is the question I've been considering this evening. As part of my reading, I came across this wonderfully provocative quote:

Without the Holy Spirit we may as well burn our Bibles
John Owen, Puritan Divine, 1616-1683 

Pithy, potent and profound - just as you'd would expect from the Prince of the Puritans.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

First test of a gentleman

This is the first test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible value to him.
William Lyon Phelps

Perfect understanding

It's been a difficult few days. A prominent and well loved church member is seriously ill and it's been a struggle knowing how best to comfort and encourage him and his family at this time. What do you say when you see a man who was incredibly active and generally outgoing, lying comatose with all sorts of tubes connected to him? Words fail you and it's folly pretending in such situations that we understand what family and close friends are going through. Thankfully, as a Christians we don’t necessarily have to understand or identify with what each person is going through in order to help or to be consoled.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15)
Incredible - there is nothing that anyone has gone through, is going through, or will go through, that Jesus cannot relate to, sympathize with or encourage his children in - What a Saviour!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Giles Fraser skewers Richard Dawkins - yeah!

Which of us hasn’t groaned when the Rev Giles Fraser, former canon of St Paul’s, pops up with his Thought for the Day on Radio 4? Dr Fraser is the archetypal 21st-century vicar, as predictably Lefty as he is drearily on-trend. That “former” prefix is because, you’ll recall, he resigned after welcoming the Occupy protesters to his cathedral. And since leaving St Paul’s he has, in a form of caricature made flesh, become a Guardian leader writer. But I take it all back. Giles Fraser, you are now my hero.
So begins a great piece in The Telegraph which focusses on an interview on Radio 4 where Professor Dawkins was skewered, by (of all people) Giles Fraser! A key moment was Fraser's  testing of Dawkins' knowledge regarding Darwin's seminal book, On the Origin of Species. The conversation was as follows:
Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of The Origin Of Species, I’m sure you could tell me that.
Dawkins: Yes I could.
Fraser: Go on then.
Dawkins: On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. There is a sub-title with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Polycarp beats Valentines any day

Some time ago in conversation with some schoolchildren, I suggested that Christians in 21st century Britain (The West?) ought to be reticent in celebrating Valentines. The challenging questions that followed have forced me to carefully assess my views on that issue and here in this short article, I want to articulate something of my justifications why, I would I urge caution on celebrating Valentines.

At the outset I want to say I'm not anti-romance. Rather my concern in raising this issue is with a view to asking Christians to consider carefully what we assimilate from our culture and, to also encourage us to transform our thinking in terms of how we order our holidays and seasons.

As many of you know, Valentines is meant to be a day when those who are courting, those who are betrothed, those who are married, express their affection for one another in visible acts of devotion. In many cases, this translates to the man getting flowers for his beloved as well as the couple enjoying an intimate meal. Now there is nothing wrong with any of these things per se.

However, I wonder if we Christians sometimes simply join in with what the culture commends, without considering how a Christian celebrating such a festival would differ. Now please hear me carefully – I am not saying that celebrating a festival which the surrounding culture celebrates is necessarily wrong. In fact I would argue that many of the festivals and celebrations which our culture celebrates find their proper place and true meaning in a Christian setting. What I am saying though, is that we need to consider everything we do in light of Scripture and ask ourselves how a Christian celebrating Valentines day (or for that matter Mothers day, Christmas, Easter etc) would differ from how the world celebrates. I think this is a basic application of verses such as 2 Corinthians 10:5 where Paul writes that 'we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.' It also follows from passages such as Colossians 1:16-18 where we are told that 'all things were created by Him and for Him... so that in everything he might have the supremacy.'

I wonder if one way to ensure that the days, weeks and months of the year display Christ's supremacy is for us to consider patterning our lives around the much maligned notion of a Church year. No doubt this sounds for some like an archaic and possibly dodgy idea but I want to offer two reasons why I think following the church year can be of immense benefit to us.

First, the Church year follows the story of the main events in Jesus' life: his birth at Christmas, his death on Good Friday, his resurrection on Easter Day, his Ascension forty days later, and his sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. Other lesser known seasons such as Advent and Lent are also linked to the great stories of salvation: Advent is meant to encourage us to consider Christ's final second coming whilst Lent is meant to help us reflect on the great sacrifice that Christ paid on the cross. The benefit of following these seasons as the year unfolds is that they provide Christians/the Church with a very clear framework with which to teach and live the gospel. Thus as we consider the bible readings that are appropriate for the season and as we mediate on how these readings fit into God's big story of salvation we will become more immersed in the gospel and become more the people God calls us to be.

Second, by following a church calendar the wonderful story of salvation will be easily transmitted from one generation to the next. This will therefore help Christian families and the Church to pass on the gospel message from one generation to the next (Psalm 78:4-7). Think for example how over the years children get to learn many of the Christmas traditions (Santa, presents under the Christmas tree, carols, Advent calendar, mince pies) simply by having them repeated them year on year. In a similar way, our knowledge of the life, death resurrection and ascension of Jesus will become ingrained the more we’re immersed in these stories regularly. Furthermore, following a church calendar will also help ministers to go deeper in their preaching, since over time, congregations will begin to see easily, the major connections between individual passages and the wider themes in God’s Big Story. Ministers will therefore not always have to spend inordinate amounts of time on the biblical background but can simply allude to it and thus focus on the passage in hand.

All this to say – instead of organizing the year into the patterns dictated by the world (valentines, mother's day, the summer holidays etc) shouldn't it be better to organize our calendar to reflect Christian priorities? Wouldn’t it be great if our children marked off the different seasons by recalling certain events in the life of Christ and were familiar with the Scriptures that described them? Wouldn’t be wonderful if over time, rather than simply celebrate what the world celebrates (in the way they celebrates it) we Christians celebrated those things that really matter in accord to the Scriptures? One example of this was kindly provided to me by a good friend who, while we were considering a good reason for our families to get together for some food, fun and fellowship, suggested that we meet on or around the 23rd February. Her reason? Well this is the date which historically the Church has remembered a great Christian martyr: Polycarp. What a fabulous idea and for me, remembering this great hero of the faith rather than partaking in soppy sentimentalism, will be the highlight of my February.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Atheists and Apostates for Evensong?

Occasionally, the mainstream media will let slip something that reveals the incoherence of attempting to be a thoroughgoing pagan. Not so long ago, The Sydney Morning Herald, published an article which waxed lyrical about attending Evensong (A sung evening service, based on the quaint Prayer Book liturgy). According to the article, "Religions are the repository of our wonderful liturgical music and the majestic language of the King James Bible.  The soaring architecture evokes images of both the Medieval roots of our European history and the Victorian English who, whether we like it or not, shaped much of the Australian persona." In other words, the Christian faith is responsible for a lot that is amiable and good and a cursory examination of the (fading?) beauty of Western civilisation confirms this. Such honesty about the glories of Christendom (even from Christians!) is rare and yet, occasionally, the Truth breaks free. It's one of the many challenges that pagans face - attempting to be King in God's world. You can only do it for so long and then you begin look pathetically silly. It's like the child, who tries to slap their father, all the while, sitting on daddy's knee. Such folly is wonderfully illustrated in the conclusion of the Herald article which says: "I propose that we have a society, Atheists and Apostates for Evensong.  And I further suggest that we gather and attend sung Evensong in every city that it is sung. None of us should let this atrophy continue." My Oh My - what a schizophrenic world to inhabit...! Rather than continue in such madness, I simply urge any atheists, apostates and agnostics to forget such folly and turn to Daddy saying...

Our Father,
who art in Heaven,
Hallowed by thy name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory,
For ever and ever.

And for those who prefer the sung version...

Monday, 6 February 2012

Another George Herbert classic

This was originally a poem but was turned into a hymn by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It could work well for churches preaching through the Gospels especially the 4th as it is laden with Johannine motifs.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life

1. Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:  
 such a way as gives us breath, 
 such a truth as ends all strife, 
 such a life as killeth death.

2. Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:  
 such a light as shows a feast, 
 such a feast as mends in length, 
 such a strength as makes his guest.

3. Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:  
 such a joy as none can move, 
 such a love as none can part, 
 such a heart as joys in love.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Goodbye Christianity = Hello Barbarism

It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have — until recently — been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. . . . If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes.

T.S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948).

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A good way to end the day

Looking up some of the old liturgies has some wonderful benefits. Today I stumbled upon an Ancient hymn (Te lucis ante terminum) that is apparently sung at the day's end (Compline for the liturgists among you). Among its many brilliances are the way it considers such ordinary things as nightmares as something worthy of our great high King's ear. Tis very much in line with Philippians 4The other thing of course is in the way in effortlessly models the biblical way to pray (to the Father, through the Son by the Spirit) and then there are the thoughtful grammatical touches like the recurring rhyme which is a great help for those of us with poor memory. All in all a good  way to end the day.     

Te lucis ante terminum (To thee before the close of day)

To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with thy wonted favour, thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally.