Friday, June 30, 2006

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Augustus M Toplady

Monday, June 26, 2006

Biography of George Müller

I just recently finished reading Roger Steer's biography of George Müller.

In case you don't know (I didn't really), George Müller was a Christian who lived through pretty much the whole 19th century. He was most famous for founding several orphanages, but also preached a lot. He deliberately made most of his life a demonstration of God's faithfulness. He never asked for money, gave spare money away, prayed a lot and got all the money, food etc he needed.

The thing I found really striking include Müller's insistence that we take God at his word when he promises to give us what we ask for in prayer if we believe we will receive it and seek to use it for his glory.

Müller then gets round the problem of how we can be sure that we will receive something not directly promised in the Bible (e.g. money for the orphanage) by saying there is a seperate gift of faith that God gives that he will answer some specific prayers. So he would pray differently for things he believed he would receive and things he was not certain about. He does however manage to avoid claiming infallibility for his own perceptions of what God wants, rather using the usual means of guidance. I'm not entirely sure how that fits together - it's something I need to work out in my own mind. I don't want to argue with Müller's experience, or with God's promises.

Certainly a very interesting read, and also challenging to take God at his word and pray more, to pray also for faith when praying. I guess many of the questions this book raises for me in the end are pastoral in terms of how I pray - I'll pray and trust God that he will lead me into the right way.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Funny Cartoon

cartoon from

[Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.]

Well, I thought it was funny anyway... Reminds me of that great quote:

Before you criticise someone, make sure you walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do it, you're a mile away from them and you've got their shoes.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mark Driscoll on Gene Robinson

Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church in Seattle is always good value for a quote. Here's what he wrote on his blog about Gene Robinson:

First the Episcopalians gave us V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the openly gay bishop who left his wife and kids to have sex with a man and later revealed that he had been a closet alcoholic for years. He was the obvious choice because he is just like Jesus with the minor exceptions of his beliefs and life.

For some reason that I still haven't got to the bottom of, Driscoll seems to be a hugely controversial figure. There are some suggestions of reasons why here. For my part, having listened to a few sermons of his online, he seems like a faithful Bible teacher who is particularly gifted at communicating with fairly unchurched young adults. Very clear, and the kind of guy "normal people" could (and do) listen to for an hour or so. He's also better than most at avoiding assuming things that everyone else seems to assume. (His sermons are available via the Mars Hill website).

Saturday, June 17, 2006

In the Image of God 3

Part 1
Part 2

I've written a bit over the last couple of months about whether we are in God's image, what that means, etc. Over the last few days, I've thought some more about it, largely spurred on by hearing a talk by Phil Keymer and reading a book by John Piper.

To summarise what I've said so far then:

Part 1:

  • Adam was made in God's image
  • Adam fell from that image
  • We are made in Adam's image, which is a corruption of God's image
  • Christ was perfectly God's image
  • Christians are being restored into Christ's image

Part 2:

  • God's image in Adam consisted in ruling
  • Adam fell from that image
  • Christ perfectly exhibited God's image in ruling
  • God's image will be restored in Christians
God's Image - Relationships

Back to Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said "Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number... Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the ground."
Genesis 1:26-28 (NIV)

Part of what it means to be in God's image is that we are in relationship with others. God is of course the perfectly relational God - Father, Son and Spirit all existing in eternal, perfectly loving relationships. In the same way, people are made male and female, and told to increase in number.

God's Image Spoilt at the Fall

Once again, we see that this aspect of what it means to be in God's image ruined.

To the woman God said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."
Genesis 3:16 (NIV)

God's Image Restored

Once again, also, we see God's image perfectly restored in Jesus. He was perfectly loving in human relationships; he could not be fooled by people's masks; he was in a perfect relationship with God.

Once again, also, we see that God's image in terms of relationships is being restored in Christians as we love one another and are united with one another in Christ and will be perfected in us in heaven.

The Purpose of God's Image

The purpose of God's image is to display God's glory - to show the world what God is like. Why else would he need or want an image?

So what is the application of all this stuff about God's image? We as Christians, who are being restored into Christ's image, should be displaying that image so that the world can see more and more what God is like by looking at us.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pet Hates #3 - Forced to Watch TV

Last time I was in hospital overnight, there was a TV on on the ward I was on. I was really grateful that the other guys in the ward spend a lot of time unconscious, because it meant I could get up and turn it off. Horrible thing. It's hard enough to spend time doing useful stuff anyhow, without mindless and meaningless rubbish blasting out.

On the same note, I don't think prisoners should be allowed TV except for (possibly) stuff like footie matches (and then only if they behave well). Part of the problem is that they have low aspirations, educational levels, etc. And that isn't going to be helped by TV. It might just be helped by education, books, proper games, which teach skills which might actually be useful in life.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pet Hates #5

Painful mind games. I tend to take whichever course of action gets most emotional distance from whoever I think is playing them. That's deliberate. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mental Illness and Salvation

Some (probably atheistic) chap called Simon, who posted a comment to my review of The Twilight of Atheism has a blog, on which he asks "Do Retards Get Into Heaven?"

I think it seems like an interesting question, if slightly insensitively asked. It also ties in with a question I've been quite interested in for a number of years - what about those who are mentally ill such that their perception of reality is horribly twisted? So here's a few quick thoughts from me...

1. We can and should trust God

We don't know everything. We don't know the state of people's hearts. God does. He has shown in Jesus that he is incredibly loving, even to us, when we reject and ignore him. We can trust him to be fair or better and to do what is right, far more so than we could trust ourselves in the same situation.

2. The Christian faith is not a set of propositions

One thing I dislike is the responsive form of the creed that we use sometimes in church. Here's a sample...

Q: Do you believe and trust in God?
A: I believe in God, the Father Almighty...

The question asks "believe and trust"; the answer is just "believe". We so often seem to reduce Christianity to believing the right things, rather than acting on them. The creeds were originally written in Latin, and the word that translates as "believe" is "credo", from which we also get "credit". It is much closer to "believe and trust" than just "believe". And in a strong way, it's the trusting bit that really matters. I think, for example, of the woman Jesus met who had haemorrhagic bleeding:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

"Who touched me?" Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you."
But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me."

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."

Luke 8:43-48 (NIV)

The woman in question doesn't seem to have had a great intellectual understanding of the truths of the gospel. Her "faith" seems to have been little more than an almost superstitious trust that touching Jesus would help. Yet that "faith" enabled her to be healed. It doesn't take someone who understands and can explain Calvin's Institutes or Aquinas's Summa Theologica to have faith in Jesus. It just requires someone who can trust him, regardless of their intellectual capacity. And pretty much everyone I know is capable of trust.

Of course, trust in Jesus produces a change in lifestyle, and the extent of the change will of course depend on circumstances including intellectual capacity...

3. Difficult questions

What about stillborn children / aborted fetuses? Does the status of the parents matter in those cases? What about people who have been in a permanent vegetative state for a very long time? What about those who are severely delusional?

I could hazard some guesses to some of those, but that's all they'd be. I don't think I will know all the answers in this life either, but I'm happy and content with trusting Godmy Saviour, my Rock and my Redeemer.

The Twilight of Atheism

Just finished reading The Twilight of Atheism by Alister McGrath.

It's aimed to be an introductory history of atheism, considering its philosophical, literary, polemical, political, psychological, etc implications, origins and effects. It's also aimed to be popularly accessible. It does a pretty good job of both.

What I found especially interesting is the suggestion that atheism is largely a reaction against corruption in religious establishments - that when the Church is doing its job and not bothering to try and prove the existence of God, people in general accept God's existence.

In particular, McGrath highlights the role of the Protestant Reformation in being a causative factor in the rise of atheism, especially because it largely removed the sense of the divine in the world and at times reduced Christianity to a form of dry intellectualism which was both unfaithful and unappealing. In a sense, it emphasised the transcendence of God (the fact that we can't reach him by our own abilities) above his immanence (the fact that he is present with us). McGrath then links the modern rise of Pentecostalism to its emphasis on that immanence, even if this is sometimes at the expense of transcendence.

I think that's a very interesting idea, and that there's probably something in it. On the other hand, I don't see how it explains the fact that atheism became strongest in Russian and China, countries largely unaffected by the Protestant Reformation. I know that was partly becasue the atheists became identified as liberators, but more exploration of the issue would have been helpful.

As the title suggests, McGrath also spends a good deal of time on the way that atheism is very much on the wane in the modern world and why that is.

All in all, a good and interesting read.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Word of the Day - Claustric

Claustric (adjective):
(of a place) of a kind that induces a sense of being closed in, producing claustrophobia.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Pet Hates #24601 - The Miracle Maker

When we have all-age services (for which read "services aimed almost entirely at children"), the reading is fairly often accompanied by a clip from a film covering the same groudnd. So, for example, readings from Exodus might be accompanied by a bit from Prince of Egypt, etc. Being a fairly conservative church, we tend to avoid stuff with actual actors, but animation is seen as fine.

One of the favourite films to use when covering a gospel story is the film The Miracle Maker, which is an animated version of Luke's gospel. I hate it.

I don't have a problem with depicting Jesus or anything like that. My issue is simply the way that Ralph Fiennes does the voice for Jesus. To my ears at least, Jesus always sounds uncertain - as if he isn't sure what he's saying or as if he isn't sure that it's right. I am happy to accept that Jesus may have been tempted to doubt, and that he had struggles and so on. Of course he did. But he had a sure and certain hope set before him. He knew that he had come to Earth to die. He knew that he had authority over demons, over the sea, over people. Perhaps Fiennes was trying to be a bit too nice, to make Jesus a bit more like the kind of person we might be comfortable meeting. But that's not the Jesus of the Bible.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Doing My Duty

I went to see X-Men: The Last Stand the other day, principally because it wasn't The Da Vinci Code, and I think it's important that people see just how poor the plot in TDVC is by it failing abjectly at the box office after the first weekend.

Good points then about X3:

  • It wasn't The Da Vinci Code
  • Some nice action sequences
  • Moderately interesting question in the storyline - if it was possible to "cure" people of an abnormality, would it be ethical? Of course, blatant homosexual references in the way it was handled, but at least it wasn't spelled out in letters 100 feet high.

Bad points:

  • Not enough high-powered action for that kind of film
  • Plot holes - the way that sci-fi and fantasy works is to change a few facts about the world and then use that as a way of exploring it. But sometimes they make mistakes where they didn't mean to. Why weren't Wolverine's implants destroyed at the end? What non-metallic stuff were the syringe needles made of?
  • Halle Berry - never did see the point of her. She always comes across in the films as having an exceptionally useful gift, but the way she uses it is almost always lame and easily beatable. Here, why did her opponent stop flitting around? Why doesn't she fly around in a tornado?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Random Pet Hates #17982 - Bills

I really dislike bills. Not the kind that are on ducks, and not because I don't think it's right to pay for services.

The reason that I dislike them is simple - they're pointless. I pay all of them by Direct Debit. I don't need them to post me one piece of paper per service per month to tell me that the money has gone out of my back account - I can see that perfectly well. A few of the many utilities e-mail me notifications. That's better - an e-mail doesn't waste paper, doesn't clutter up the doormat, is much less hassle to recylce and takes about 2 seconds (literally) to read. In fact, I can just look at the "Subject" header and decide not to bother reading it.

If there was a query or something, I'd notice it when looking at my back account, and could e-mail them. I don't need 300 pieces of paper telling me their phone number.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

In the Image of God 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post thinking about whether we were in God's image. As far as I can remember, what I wrote can be summarised like this:

  • Adam was made in God's image
  • Adam fell from that image
  • We are made in Adam's image
  • Christ was perfectly God's image
  • Christians are being restored into Christ's image

In the meantime, the intimidatingly clever Daniel Hill has asked me some questions about the authority over creation implied by God's image. That got me thinking, so I'm revisiting the topic.

The Essence of God's Image in Adam

As I mentioned last time, the essence of God's image is that it is to do with ruling. Here are the key verses from Genesis again.

Then God said "Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number... Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the ground."
Genesis 1:26-28 (NIV)

We can see that the verse referring to God's image (v27) is bracketed by v26 and v28, both of which are God telling the people to rule over the world.

God's Image Ruined by the Fall

But that isn't the way it stays. Adam and Eve sin, and then God speaks to them.

To the woman, God said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'
"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.
Genesis 3:16-19 (NIV)

Adam and Eve's rule over creation is removed. God's words to Eve affect his command at the start of 1v28 - to be fruitful and increase in number - it now comes only with pain. As we see in chapter 4 with Cain and Abel, it is also now not automatic - the number reduces in Genesis 4.

God's words to Adam, though, remove his dominion over the ground - it now produces thorns and thistles, it requires sweat and at the end it will claim Adam, who was meant to have mastery over it. Adam's dominion over the animals is also removed with God's words to the serpent, which instead of being subject to Adam is now the enemy of him and his descendants (3v15).

That does not mean that the image of God was totally obliterated, just that it was so corrupted and twisted that it is no longer the image of God, but the image of Adam, which is the image we all bear.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.
Genesis 5:3 (NIV)

So we, in Adam's image, still have some degree of mastery over the world, but not the degree that Adam had before the Fall, when he was in God's image.

Absence of God's Image seen in the OT

Throughout the Old Testament, we see that people are not ruling over the animals and the earth in the way they were meant to. The most disgraceful death is to be eaten by dogs (e.g. Jezebel), as that has nature ruling over people.

God's judgement on his faithless people sees their cities replaced by briers and thorns. For example,

Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it."
The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the house of Israel,
Isaiah 5:5-7a (NIV)

Again, we see nature overcoming people specifically as a sign of his judgement on them but also as a clear indicator that they are not in his image.

God's Image Perfected in Christ

Of course, it is in Christ that we see God's image perfectly, and it is in Christ that we see his perfect rule over his creation.

One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
Luke 8:22-25 (NIV)

Jesus' perfect rule over creation showed that he was in God's image.

[This raises a few interesting but pointless questions to which I don't know the answer, nor do I especially care. Could Adam and Eve have performed what we would call miracles before the Fall? Why would they have wanted to?]

God's Image Restored in Christians

We also see that God's image will be restored in Christians. How does this work out in terms of rule over creation?

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
2 Timothy 2:11-12a

"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
Revelation 5:10

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Revelation 22:5 (NIV)


Things I've Written

This page is intended to be a compilation of one sentence things I've written that I thought were striking or quite clever. Sad really, isn't it?

If truth doesn't change our lives, either it doesn't matter or we don't believe it.

(much later edit - just follow the quotes tag; I'm not going to update this page every time.