Wednesday, April 29, 2009

State of Play

I've been really disappointed with the quality of the twists in films of late. Most of them are really really obvious beforehand. But I don't think Russell Crowe has made a bad film for a long time, and this is no exception. I'll try not to spoil it in what follows.

In some ways, this is a standard journalist thinks they are a detective film, investigating a Washington political scandal which involves several deaths. Big companies being evil, courageous politicians trying to take a stand, the usual sorts of thing.

I suppose the biggest weakness is that the film is probably slightly more sympathetic to the journalists than it should be. As the police point out during the film, there is a sense in which their desire for the scoop does make the situation work...

Oh, that and the presence of the annoying guy from the Orange phone cinema adverts in a minor role. He was really, really distracting, not because he was a bad actor, but just because, sitting in the cinema, I was expecting him to say something really stupid...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Stranger to God

This verse really hit me this morning...

Hear my prayer, LORD, listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Psalm 39:12, TNIV

This is a "Psalm of David", which roughly means it was written by / with / for / in memory of David. And yet the author says that they only ever dwelt with God as a stranger and a foreigner. He sees a qualitative gap between him and God.

And yet, while even David saw that, we can now dwell with God as sons, rather than as strangers and foreigners.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Beds puzzle me. There are loads of different widths of bed available, but they are all the same length. I was even in a hotel recently where they gave me a triple bed (I don't know what they were expecting me to do there...) But actually, I don't mind how wide the bed is - I just want to be able to stretch out without my feet going off the end of the bed.

So why don't beds come long enough so that a reasonably tall person (and I'm only 6ft!) can stretch out? Or if they do exist, why aren't they much more common?

As far as I can tell, either there isn't the demand for longer beds, or it's a conspiracy by evil dwarves. Personally, I think the latter seems more probable.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ecclesiastes 12

To my mind, these are among the most evocative words I've ever read anywhere.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them—
before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint;
when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him— before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Just a breath! Just a breath! says the Teacher. Everything is just a breath

Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 (v1-7 from NIV, v8 is my own translation)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Loving Your Enemies in the Old Testament

Here's a powerful example from the Old Testament of what it means to love your enemies.

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
They slandered me without ceasing.

Psalm 35:11-15, TNIV

(The Psalmist then goes on to pray for God to vindicate him in the usual OT way.) But what really struck me was this as an example of loving enemies. What does it mean to love our enemies? To behave like this to them, even if we knew they would turn on us. And to do it again after they have...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Mission

This is an extraordinary film, and thoroughly worth watching.

Jeremy Irons plays a Jesuit missionary to a remote tribe in the South American jungle, at a time when slave trading and politics both threaten the area. It's really well acted - Robert de Niro is another major character but I think Irons is even better.

His character is so clearly totally sold out for Jesus, and so clearly willing to die for him and for the people he is seeking to reach. Lots of stuff too about the importance of what was effectively an early form of native farmers' co-operatives and the dangers of church politics. All in all, a brilliant and very moving film.

Psalm 34:22

The LORD redeems his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
Psalm 34:22, TNIV

Here we see that the key thing for salvation is where we take refuge; what we hold onto as our only hope when everything else is gone. We also see by the parallelism that God's servants are those who take refuge in him - that taking refuge in God is inseparable from serving him, and serving him properly understood is inseparable from taking refuge in him.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Great Contrail Controversy

Back when I was studying physics, there was a big controversy about contrails - those white lines that aeroplanes leave behind them in the skies. It might have been sorted out now; I'm not sure, but I do think I know the answer.

There were two main schools of thought when I was studying physics. One school of thought said that they were caused by the engines - the air coming out of aircraft engines has more water vapour than the air going into them (because burning fuel creates carbon dioxide and water) and therefore the contrails were that water vapour condensing behind the aircraft. The problem with this is that some aeroplanes have three engines - one on each wing and one on the back, and they don't seem to leave three-lined contrails.

The other school of thought was that because air goes faster over the top of the wing than the bottom of the wing, the aircraft moving through the air creates vortex strings behind it, and water vapour in the air condenses onto them. The problem with this is that it's not immediately obvious that it works as an idea...

I was flying back from Rome a while ago, and I noticed contrails forming behind the aeroplane, and I noticed where they were coming from. On the back surface of the wing, there are flaps. And when the flaps are lowered, this creates a jagged back surface to the wing, as if some bits were missing. The contrails were forming from the edge of those jagged bits - they're created by turbulence from air coming off the back of the wing where the wing is uneven because of flaps.

That's what caused these anyway...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Politics and the Family

There was a good piece in the Telegraph today about the modern decline of the family and how it links into politics and so on. For me, the scary statistic was that half of all cohabiting couples split up before their child's first birthday. (I don't know if that just applies to first children or not...)

I guess therefore that part of what it means to be a witness to the transformation that Christ brings is being a culture where husbands stay with their wives and vice versa and where children are brought up in the best possible environment, even if it is more expensive. And of course, seeking to transform society in a loving way so that the best possible support is provided for children while being loving and supportive to those in situations where that is not possible.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sermon on Identity

Here's a talk I gave the other week about our identity in Christ...

Or download it from here.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Heirs of God

The following verse has often puzzled me:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:17, NIV

It puzzled me because the phrase "heirs of God" suggests that we are meant to inherit something when God dies. And he isn't going to.

But actually it turns out it's a bad translation (but so are most others) and latching on to a concept in Biblical theology.

The concept is the one of inheritance. The inheritance of the Israelites was the land that they got because of God's promise to them - each of them had an inheritance in the Promised Land. It didn't mean they had to die to get it - it meant it was a bit of land which they got which couldn't be taken away from their family.

And the word "heirs" in Romans 8:17 is better translated "inheritors". It means that what we get is God, and is with Christ.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Horrible Slogans

I'm on camp at the moment, and have only just managed to get internet access. We're borrowing a school building, and there's one of those horrible motivational posters on a wall I walk past fairly often, that says the following:

If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you dream it you can become it.

Some of those motivational posters are actually quite good, but I have an intense dislike for ones which express that sort of rubbish sentiment in an attempt to motivate kids who have started to realise the futility of life without Jesus.

I'm tempted to go round and graffiti some of the posters. For example, I might add to that one that I dreamed about a flying horse. Does that mean I can become one?

It all makes me want to link to those wonderful posters at Despair, Inc..

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Theological Accuracy and Authenticity

Often, what we look for in sung worship is "authenticity" - we want it to be genuine and to sound as if it is emotionally consonant with the sentiments expressed and what we should be feeling. And what we look for in preaching is often theological accuracy and soundness.
But it occurs to me that actually, the reverse is probably more important. Songs and hymns are the best way to learn theology, because the words stick in our minds in a way that just doesn't happen with sermons (well, usually - I can think of a few exceptions). The things we believe are heavily affected by the words we sing, so it is important for them to be theologically accurate. And (as Jonathan Edwards said) the key thing about preaching is the response it produces in the hearer at the time, and the transformation it effects in their life by the power of the Holy Spirit. So authenticity in preachers is essential too.
Of course, what is really needed is both theological accuracy and authenticity in both spoken word and song...