Saturday, November 25, 2006


You might remember this bit at the end of the Two Towers film. I searched it out for a talk I'm doing for a bunch of Christians next weekend on suffering (as if a weekend with me wasn't enough teaching on that subject!).
I can’t do this, Sam.

I know.
It’s all wrong.
By right we shouldn’t even be here.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really matters.
Full of darkness and danger they were.
And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you that meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t.
They kept going because they were holding on to something.

What are we holding on to, Sam?

That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo.
And it’s worth fighting for.
It is pretty moving - until you get to the last couple of lines, at which point you realise that, however masterfully expressed, with whatever emotive and rhetorical strength, this is what most non-Christian hope looks like: holding on to the fact that there's some good in the world.

But it is a very flawed hope, with amazingly little basis in empirical fact. Seems to me that it takes much more faith than holding on to the fact that Jesus was who he said he was. Is it the case that a study of history shows humans being kinder to eachother as time has passed? We have better education - true, but: so what?? Harold Shipman was a highly educated man, Hitler wasn't thick, and examples multiply without any thought whatsoever... Yet many still hope that there's something good in humanity - what blind faith!
The pursuit of education as a solution to national problems, for example, is just one example of such a flawed hope.

Jean-Paul Satre said, just months before he died: "I know I shall die in hope ... but hope needs a foundation". He was right. It does - and it is Jesus. The hope that there's something good in this world (in the way atheists mean it, as opposed to the way Christians might want to nuance it) has no foundation.

A great moment in a great film - but a very sad one too...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Struggling with Comparisons

The easiest way for me to put up a decent post is to link to someone else.

When that someone is John Piper, this not only saves me time but astronomically improves the average quality of my posts.

When the link is to such an important and prevalent issue, I'm doing us all a favour.

So: here it is. John Piper of Christian's comparing themselves to eachother: "what is that to you; follow me!" Gold dust.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

BBC on Muslims Converting to Christianity

See here.

Frustrated by that church willing to disown its members & deny any role in their conversion - but then, I'm not there, have no idea what it is like, so might not be the best judge...

It'll be particularly interesting to see what comments are left by the BBC's readers.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

C S Lewis on Confession of Sin

Here is Doug Wilson on 'Confessing Sin in Narnia'.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

John Piper on 'Avoiding Sexual Sin'

I thought this was outstanding: clear, serious, fair, practical, etc...

His background to it was 1987 (the first couple of paragraphs talk about the background then). But today's is no better - possibly worse. There's been that evangelical leader in the US, and many examples abound in the UK and elsewhere too.

We are each one of us capable of such horrible sin.

John Piper's sermon here might just be one of God's loving means of grace to prevent us.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression' (III)

I am revelling in this book. The man (Dr Lloyd-Jones) has spiritual ballast (phrase nicked from Lloyd C. Douglas, who uses it of Dean Harcourt in books like 'Green Light'). He is educating my mind, warming my heart and stirring my will - which is precisely what we should long for each and every author, and particularly every sermon, to do. He is, in very many ways, very true to the Puritans he so loved - which is what I like about him. I am praising God for this book.

The Doctor is writing about sad Christians, arguing that such words are (rightly understood) incompatible, yet still form a fair description of many people. He is examining the causes and cures of such a condition. I'm basically trying to summarise him, and not comment too much (which, so far, I'm managing). Two more chapters today.

5. That One Sin
"Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting." (1Tim 1:16)

Some think that suffering, unhappiness or trouble are alien to the Xn life, but they are wrong, & the NT is full of examples to prove this. Instead, if you have had no trouble in the Xn life, you may well not be a Xn at all - since, on conversion, we become special objects of Satan's attention, as he aims to disturb and upset us.

One common way the Devil tries to do this is to keep Xns bound up in the past - depressed because of some particular sin, or specific form that sin took in their case. This is a very common problem, affecting many people. Now these people really are Xns, understanding salvation - but thinking themselves in a different category because of this particular sin.

What is the real trouble here? There is both the work of Satan, and also ignorance of doctrine - a failure to understand the NT's teaching on salvation. Because of this latter, there is a strong sense in which the person affected must not pray for relief; this is what they have always done, and it hasn't worked. Obviously we must all pray, praying without ceasing as Paul did; but at this point the afflicted Xn must think.

Think of what? In 1Tim 1 Paul sees himself set up as a model for all those who feel that their sin passes some supposed limit of God's mercy. If he can obtain mercy, so can we all. Further, we must not differentiate between sin & sin - there is only one sin, really, and that is unbelief. Thus we must not think in terms of sin, but of relationship to God. Remember Gen 39:9b (a great memory verse - particularly for us blokes).

The problem with this type of unhappy Xn is that they don't believe the Scriptures. In thinking 'there's this terrible sin I've committed' such a person is not believing the Word of God - 1Jn 1:8-9 is abundantly clear. Another problem is not understanding what was achieved at Calvary - Jesus' sacrificial, atoning death, by whose stripes we are healed. Justification does not just mean that we have been forgiven, but that we have been given the righteousness of Christ.

Thus, ultimately, such depression is a failure to realise our union with Christ. We were one in Adam, and are now one in Him. Thus we must never look at our past lives in any other way than such as glorifies God as we praise Him.

(I slightly disagree here, and with the corresponding bits of the next chapter too, in that I don't think that regretting past sin is wrong - in fact, it seems to be a part of biblical repentance. Just as we look at the cross, so we look at our past sins: we hate that they happened, yet delight that they were part of God's will, through which he has acted for his name's sake and thus for our good.)

6. Vain Regrets
"And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the Grace of God I am what I am: and His Grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor 15:8-10)

'It is not an unfair deduction to make, therefore, that what accounts for the masses being outside [the church] is the condition of those who are inside.' (79) Looking superficially, many could think that there are happier people outside the church than inside it. This is, of course, wrong; but it is not unfair - and the cause is the attacks of Satan, which we are here trying to protect against. We turn, then to people who are crippled in the present as the result of looking back to the past - not to past sins, but to so much time spent outside of the kingdom.

There is nothing wrong with such regrets in one sense; what is wrong is the misery that so often accompanies them. The Xn life is very finely balanced - as we see here.

Common sense dictates that we don't waste time and energy worrying about things we can't change - that's just sensible, whether Xn or not. We should never worry about things we can't change. Further, such dwelling on the past often causes failure in the present. More, if you do believe much time to have been lost in the past, the last thing you'll want to do is think about it now! Resolve to make up for that lost time.

Turning to the Apostle's teaching, what matters first is that you are now a Xn. It matters not what you were, but what you are now. Thus it is not the time of entry but the fact of entry into the kingdom that matters.

Moreover, such depression may indicate a fascination and preoccupation with self. Why judge yourself, when judgement is God's? The Lord's parable about the labourers in the vineyard destroys any vain regrets about what we could have done, had we started earlier.

Putting it more positively, we must not focus on ourselves, but rather know Him and His ways. Feeling a greater interest in Christ leads to much less interest in ourselves. What matters in the kingdom is not length of service, but our attitude of heart.

Finally, nothing matters in the kingdom but the Grace of God. he does not see as men do, nor compute as we do. Through Joel He says: "I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten" (Joel 2:25). Never look back, never waste your energy; forget the past and rejoice in the present: praise God for what you are now, and that you are in the Kingdom.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression' (II)

Lloyd-Jones' book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures is examining the reasons behind and cures for the fact that many Xns are miserable. 'One of the reasons why the Christian Church counts for so little in the modern world is that so many Christians are in this condition. If all Christians simply began to function as the New Testament would have us do, there would be no problem of evangelism confronting the Church. The matter would deal with itself immediately. It is because we are failing as Christian people in our daily lives and deportment and witness that the Church counts for so little and that so few are attracted to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' (37) This is what makes this topic so urgent.

3. Men as Trees, Walking
"And He cameth to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto Him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when He had spit upon his eyes, and put His hands upon him, He asked him if he was ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that He put His hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And He sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town." (Mark 8:22-26)

This miracle is remarkable, because it is in two stages; Jesus could have healed him all in one go, but doesn't, which must be for a good reason, as we see here, to teach. The main lesson is for the disciples, who have seen everything but haven't yet got it. But it is also a permanent lesson for God's people, a terrible message. The message turns on this: after the first stage of the healing, could the man see? This is the condition focussed on here (in this sermon), that of Xns concerned and unhappy for lack of clarity. Such people are hard to define - sometimes seeming Xns, sometimes not; alternately seeing themselves as Xn and then not.

What do these people see? Very often, they understand that there's something wrong with them, and are thus unhappy in themselves. The also may have seen the excellencies of the Xn life - both for society and personally. the may have come even further, seeing Jesus as the only hope - that he is 'somehow the Saviour'. Further, they know that they cannot help themselves. They are not like the people we thought about in the last chapter, who think they can put themselves in the right; they see that they cannot save themselves. Do they see? Yes - as in the story/parable.

But they are still confused, and this in three areas: they are unclear in the totality of the principles of salvation; they do not perceive that their heart is not fully engaged; their wills are divided.

The fault for this condition may be many things. Often evangelists are at fault in bringing people to this pass. But also the people themselves may be at fault, for various possible reasons: they may dislike clear thinking and definitions because of their demands; they may not fully accept Scripture; they may not be interested in doctrine - falsely separating Bible teaching from doctrine; some may take Scripture's truths in the wrong order. Each of these faults within the person may sit under the heading of an unwillingness to think things through.

So, what is the cure? The first is obvious: don't pretend to see if you can't! The man needed to admit (again) his need to Jesus, and ask for further help. Had he not done so, he may not have been healed further - and may have gone around describing men to others as trees, with great harm. The second is the opposite; while the first temptation is to run before you can see, the second is to feel totally helpless and become desperate.

The cure is to be honest, and answer the Lord's questions truthfully and honestly, and to submit yourself to him. Decide to stop asking questions and take the truth in its correct order: submit to God, become as a child, and plead for clear sight. Examine yourself and come to him - who has promised to heal all those who come to him. Know him to be you all, and that you belong to him.

4. Mind, Heart and Will
"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you." (Rom 6:17)

Satan is a subtle enemy, only desiring to ruin God's work. 'The moment we become Christians the devil is particularly concerned to get us down, and he has no more successful way of doing that than to make us miserable.' (52) This verse presents, in positive form, another negative cause for this condition of Christian misery; the apostle is emphasising 'the wholeness of the Christian life. ... The whole man is involved the mind, the heart and the will, and a common cause of spiritual depression is the failure to realise that the Christian life is a whole life, a balanced life.' (52)

Often this condition may be caused by the preacher or evangelist - each of whom grows converts or disciples much like themselves. Firstly, spiritual depression is often caused by our failure to understand the greatness of the gospel - a failure to embrace the "form of doctrine" which is the great truth of the gospel in Romans - or Ephesians, or Colossians; we need "the whole council of God". But, secondly, we must also understand that the whole man must be involved in and by this gospel - the mind & heart & will.

Some only seem to have a mental comprehension; they have views, and basically study Christian philosophy - so that Xty is merely a point of view or intellectual attitude. Likewise, some are only interested in the debates - so that these are great hobbies and interests. But I have seen these men on their deathbeds, and the sight is terrible because the gospel they have argued about has not gripped them, and therefore does not help them.

Some have the gospel affect their heart only, which is more common today. There is a massive danger in undergoing a purely emotional experience - which can be obtained by a far-from-complete presentation of the gospel. People are in this position through various means - an interest in spirituality, a delight in aesthetics, a vigorous appeal in a meeting. Some even come to enquiry rooms after evangelistic events not knowing why they are there - and are content to go on enjoying themselves emotionally without harnessing the mind and will.

Finally, some involve the will alone - taking up 'Christianity', but neither knowing why, nor experiencing the power of knowing Jesus. They take up Christianity, as opposed to being taken up by it.

And just as having only one faculty involved, so having any two is also wrong; so great a gospel must take up the whole man. Not only that, but lacking this balance must lead to problems later on. Thus there must be a definite order about these things: truth comes to the mind, moving the heart and motivating the will. Thus neither the heart nor will must be approached directly; the evil often find comfort that they can still weep in a Xn meeting - which is a false deduction and very horrible confusion. But likewise, though starting with the intellect, none must think the Christian message ends there - it moves the heart and thus the will yields. 'O God make us balanced Christians, men and women of whom it can be said that we are obviously, patently obeying from the heart the form of doctrine which has been delivered unto us.' (62)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Possibly my Favourite Hymn

Based on 1Pet 2, and to the tune of Hyfrydol (generally known as Hydrofoil, which is the tune to 'Alleluia Sing to Jesus' and ' I Will Sing the Wondrous Story').
Ye that know the Lord is gracious,
ye for whom a cornerstone
stands, of God elect and precious,
laid that ye may build thereon,
see that on that sure foundation
ye a living temple raise,
towers that may tell forth salvation,
walls that may re-echo praise.

Living stones, by God appointed
each to his allotted place,
kings and priests, by God anointed,
shall ye not declare his grace?
Ye, a royal generation,
tell the tidings of your birth,
tidings of a new creation
to an old and weary earth.

Tell the praise of him who called you
out of darkness into light,
broke the fetters that enthralled you,
gave you freedom, peace and sight:
tell the tale of sins forgiven,
strength renewed and hope restored,
till the earth, in tune with heaven,
praise and magnify the Lord.
Words: Cyril A. Alington (1872-1955)

[Ros (at least) will be happy to see I've gone for the 'ye' version rather than the 'you' one!]

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Two Great Websites

First, there's ShowandTell, which is sharing youth-work resources. I've known this was coming for a while, and am very excited to see it. Please will all you gifted youth-workers out there put all your stuff on it so I can use it? Many thanks! seriously, we're all a bit too coy about our talks; I think that if a talk's good enough to give to whichever group you gave it to, it is good enough to share with other mature Christians - who are much less likely to be taken in by any errors or mistakes than the people you first gave it to! Only thing stopping us all sharing is either false thinking on this one, or pride... So, let's share! :-))

Second, there's Titus2Talk, which looks like a great website following on from my post here about women. A brief scan reveals many links to great sites, a positive review of my current favourite Christian CD, and loads of links at the very bottom of the page on all sorts of useful things. I will be adding this to the list of resources suggested after that earlier blog. And if there are any women reading this with more ideas, or who didn't comment the first time, please go for it, so we men can learn how to serve you better as we teach and preach and pastor...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Great Kendrick Song

This has been on my desktop as a stickie (electric version of a post-it note) for ages, and I'm surprised it isn't better loved and used much more... Great words, good and appropriate tune - what more do we want?

Here it is:
How can I be free from sin?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
From the guilt, the power, the pain?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
There's no other way
No price that I could pay
Simply to the cross I cling
This is all I need
This is all I plead
That his blood was shed for me

How can I know peace within?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
Sing a song of joy again!
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
Flowing from above
All-forgiving love
From the Father's heart to me!
What a gift of grace
His own righteousness
Clothing me in purity!

How can I live day by day?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus
Following his narrow way?
Lead me to the cross of Jesus.
(c) Graham Kendrick (1991)