Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back Soon...

...excuse the hiatus.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Crossway - Customer Service (outstanding)

A while ago I e-mailed Crossway in the US to ask why I couldn't get the ESVin epub form, so that I could download it onto my Sony e-reader.

A while later, I received an e-mail in response from one Liz Young, the 'ebook and digital licensing co-ordinator' at Crossway, who assured me that in about a week it would be available.   She encouraged me to get in touch again if I had any problems.

Two weeks later, I still couldn't find the file on Crossway's website.  I emailed Liz and told her; there'd been problems, she said, but it was there now.  She sent me the link.  Sure enough, there it was, and I downloaded it.  My computer could open it - but I couldn't get it to install on my e-reader.

So I emailed Liz.  After a while, she emailed me back and... and we went back and forth like that for a while.  She made suggestions, I couldn't do it and said so - and so on.

Eventually, after several emails over most of a day, I was finally able to download the ESV and install it on the e-reader.  It's there now.

My point is this: Crossway's representative cared enough to sort out my problem from the other side of the Atlantic.  She cared enough to consult her team to discover my problem.  She cared enough to keep going until the problem resolved.  Then, when I thanked her, she emailed again and thanked ME for alerting them to the problem so that they could help others.

And - to cap it all - the ESV download is free.

Now, that's what I call outstanding customer service.  Thank you, Crossway.  (Thanks, Liz)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Mighty Comma

Lynne Truss pointed out years ago that 'A  panda is a large black-and-white bear-like mammal that eats, shoots and leaves' means something very different from 'A panda is a large black-and-white bear-like mammal that eats shoots and leaves.'  But the difference is only one comma - a mighty comma.

This past Sunday we began our worship with Andrew King's excellent setting of the creed: 'We believe in God Almighty' and someone queried the theology; for one verse says 'Once baptised, our sins forgiven'.  They took it to mean that we need to be baptised in order for our sins to be forgiven - and I've heard the point made before.  I've even seen it in print.

Once more, it's down to the mighty comma.  'Once baptised our sins forgiven' WOULD mean 'Once baptised our sins are forgiven'.  That, of course, is error.  But put in the comma, 'once baptised, our sins forgiven' and it becomes a list - a list of things that have happened to the Christian.  He has been baptised once, and his sins are forgiven.  (It's based, of course, on the Nicene Creed - and see Ephesians 4:5.)

Then again, there's 'Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven'.  As it stands, it is calling out to the soul to praise the King of Heaven.  Take out the first comma, though ('Praise my soul, the King of Heaven') and it's calling on the King of Heaven to praise my soul.  Quite a difference, eh?

Mind you, those of us who know the difference do make mistakes: my very own 'Why Lord?' should, of course, be 'Why, Lord?'  As one reviewer pointed out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Very rare Buddy Holly

If you know just a bit about Buddy Holly, you probably think of 'That'll be the Day' as his first record.  But not so: he'd earlier released 'Blue Days, Black Nights' on the Decca label, as well as 'Modern Don Juan'.  Neither of them did well, Decca would not renew his contract so he signed with Brunswick Records, and the rest is (very, very brief) history.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Strong imagery and Gospel Communication

Recently I was taken to task for expressing the opinion that someone was a wolf: 'Surely not - he loves the gospel.  He may have his problems but 'wolf' is a bit strong.'  Well, more of wolves in another post.  But it set me thinking about the strong imagery - often negative - in the New Testament, and the anaemic , let's-not-upset-anyone communication that passes for preaching these days.  I am, from time to time, 'corrected'  when I use strong imagery in my own preaching.  But here are some better examples than any of mine:


Matthew 7:15  "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."

Matthew 7:18,19 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 23:27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean."

Now come on Lord, that's a bit harsh.  You know, the Pharisees love the Scriptures.  I know they don't always agree with your interpretation, and in fact some of them might be hypocrites, as you say.  But you can't tar them all with the same brush.  I mean - look at Nicodemus.  He came to you very respectfully, didn't he?

Other NT writers:

Acts 20:29,30  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

Galatians 5:12  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

2 Peter 2:12-15 They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.  They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.  With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an accursed brood!  They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.

2 Peter 3:22 Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

Jude 12-15  They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted--twice dead.   They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.   Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones  to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

Now steady on, Jude - you're getting carried away.  I know Jesus is your brother and you've thought a lot about the things that he said - but even he didn't go that far.  The men you're talking about hardly deserve your eternal damnation.  Even if they did - wild waves of the sea?  Moderate your language a bit old chap.  This is England you know.

A need for balance?
Yes, of course.   But where is the balance, when most preachers insist on speaking of wooden-handled manually operated soil excavation equipment?  Where is the language that makes listeners sit up and think 'Wow!  This is serious!'  Where's the language that lets people know what the preacher really thinks?  Whitefield repented in later life of a language too apostolical.  Today's preachers need to repent of a language not apostolical enough.

Update on balance..
It's been suggested to me by my reader that balance isn't a helpful concept.  Was Jesus - in any of those quotes - balanced?  Er - no.  Guess not.  The correct 'balance' - if we must use the concept - has to be the balance of two different extremes.  When Paul says 'speaking the truth in love' he doesn't mean 'Sometimes speak the truth.  Sometimes speak in love.  Get the balance right.'  He means 'Always speak the truth.  Always speak in love.  Tell it bluntly, and do so because you love the gospel, love the God of the gospel, and love the person you're speaking to.'  And that, dear friend, is the balance that's hard.  Innit?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Criticising Friends

This is a very old (1992) article from John Piper - you can either follow the link or read it below.

John Stott has served the church well as pastor, writer, evangelical statesman, missions mobilizer, apologist. He made a profound impact on me in 1967 at Urbana and fanned the flames of my growing zeal for the word of God. He crafted the Lausanne Covenant which I admire. I recall Laurel Bissett’s testimony of how she was converted reading Stott’s Basic Christianity. That story could perhaps be duplicated a thousand times over. I love John Stott and thank God for his ministry.
All the more then do I grieve at his abandonment of the historic biblical truth expressed in our Affirmation of Faith: “We believe in . . . the eternal felicity of the righteous, and theendless suffering of the wicked.” He wrote in 1988, “Emotionally I find the concept [of endless suffering] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it . . . Scripture points in the direction of annihilation.” This is a tragic defection from historic orthodoxy by one who has championed “Basic Christianity” so faithfully.
Consider what he must do with the Scriptures. For example, on Mark 9:47-48:
If your eye causes you to sin pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
If annihilation is in view, why would Jesus lay stress on the fire never being quenched and the worm never dying? Stott says that the worm will not die nor the fire be quenched “until presumably their work of destruction is done.” That qualification is not in the text. But the focus on eternal duration is confirmed in Matthew 18:8, where the term “eternal hell” is used.
In Revelation 20:10 John writes,
The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Stott again struggles in vain to escape the clear intent of the eternal torments of the lake of fire. He says that Revelation 20:10 refers to the beast and false prophet who “are not individual people but symbols of the world in its varied hostility to God. In the nature of the case they cannot experience pain.”
But Stott fails to mention Revelation 20:15 where it says that “if anyone’s name (not just the beast and false prophet) was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Similarly Revelation 21:8 says that it is individual sinners whose “lot shall be the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” And the torment that lasts “for ever and ever” in Revelation 14:10 is precisely the torment of people “with fire and sulfur”—that is, the torment of “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (21:8). In other words the “lake of fire” is in view not only, as Stott suggests, when the beast and false prophet and death and hades (20:13) are cast out, but also when individual unbelievers are finally condemned (14:10-11; 20:15; 21:8).
Conclusion: “Watch at all times, praying that you may be able to escape all these things” (Luke 21:36). Pray for evangelical leaders, that they would “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Pastor John

Note what Piper does, here.  The balance is instructive.  The first paragraph lays out the blessing Stott has been to the church, and ends 'I love John Stott and thank God for his ministry.'  In fact, even earlier, the piece is entitled 'When a FRIEND takes a wrong turn' (emphasis mine).

Then, immediately, in the second paragraph he pulls no punches: Stott's unorthodox line on hell is called an 'abandonment of the historic biblical truth' and 'a tragic defection from historic orthodoxy by one who has championed 'Basic Christianity' so faithfully'.

Subsequent paragraphs attempt (I think successfully) to show what violence Stott must do to clear Biblical statements in order to maintain an annihilationist position.  And after a call to pray that other evangelical leaders won't go the same way, Piper signs off with 'soberly' - it's a big issue, it's an issue that's made him grieve.

I do believe this is one of the areas (others include, for example, ecumenism) where John Stott has done the church a great disservice, making respectable - in some quarters at least - what has hitherto always been regarded as a dangerous departure.  If the final fate of the lost is unconscious non-existence, then Jesus died in vain and the Father is a monster - giving his only Son to such agony to save the world from something they would never know about, never feel, never experience.

But I recoil (now - I did not always) from that attitude which says that therefore Stott is some kind of theological leper.  He's a good man, a gift to the church - and a flawed man whose statements need to be weighed and sifted.  And that, of course, is true of everyone.

May God give us Piper's grace, and Piper's discernment.  And may the same God bless and draw near to John Stott in these days when age and ill-health are taking their toll.

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Janine

Back to the serious this week: some of you have expressed appreciation of my occasional posting of Janine Jansen's videos - and I'm sure it's the quality of her playing, even though only men have commented!  Here she is playing Bartok's Romanian Dances.  It's the piece my very patient teacher has set me these past five weeks or so - though it doesn't sound much like this when I play it.  (Which will be no surprise to those who've heard me; and still less to Stefan.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Memories of teen-age years...


Thursday, November 11, 2010

On the interpretation of dreams

'Your old men will dream dreams...' says the Scripture (Acts 2:17)

Hmm.  I was talking to a guy recently who belonged to some kind of charismatic house group.  He was asking me about a part of the world I'd never heard of.  A few years ago, it seems, he'd had a dream about that part of the world and thinks God was telling him that they ought to support missionaries there.

Funny that.  Just the night before I'd had a very vivid dream.  I couldn't get the TV to turn off.  I was using the right remote control, it was set up right.  The batteries were fine and I moved nearer and changed the angle - but whatever I did, the TV stayed on.

It's pretty obvious what God was saying to me: I'm far too quick to turn the telly off.  I need to watch it more - probably a lot more.  I'm a preacher and need to understand society - so don't be turning it off: watch it in abundance.

Mind you - Elaine thinks God's telling me that I just can't turn the TV off.  That I'm addicted. That I need to do something about it - I watch so much of it that it's as if the remote control doesn't work.  My dream's a warning.

Oh dear.  If only God had given us some infallible way of knowing his will.  You know - a book, or something, with everything we need for life and godliness.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

Spurgeon - Sometimes Christians don't talk sense

Many Christian people, who do not exactly talk common sense, sum this all up by saying, that to gain the whole world is to gain nothing at all. Perhaps they are right, but I question if they believe what they assert. They sing just as we have been singing—
"Jewels to thee are gaudy toys,
And gold is sordid dust."

And so they are compared with Christ; but there are some who find unnecessary and absurd fault with the things of this world, and call jewels "gaudy toys," and gold "sordid dust." I have often admired some of my friends, when I have heard them talking about gold as sordid dust; for I wonder why they did not give it to the dustman the next time he came round. If they were to do that, I would not mind going round myself for once with the bell, particularly as it might be rather convenient to us, seeing that we want some of that sordid dust to erect a tabernacle for the Most High. Many who affect to despise wealth are the greatest hoarders of it. I suppose they are afraid it might injure other people's hearts, and, therefore, they put it away very carefully, so that others may not touch the dangerous thing. That may be all very kind of them; but we do not exactly appreciate their benevolent intention, and should think it fully as kind if they were every now and then to distribute some of it. You hear them saying, very often, that "money is the root of all evil." Now, I should like to find that text. But it is not to be found anywhere, from Genesis to Revelation. I found a text once, which said, "The love of money is the root of all evil;" but as for the money itself, I can see very little evil in it. If a man will but rightly use it, I conceive that it is a talent sent from heaven, bestowed by God for holy purposes, and I am quite sure God's talents are not bad ones. My brethren, it is all cant for a man to say that he does not really care for these things, because every one does in some degree; every one wishes to have some of this world; and there really is, in possessing a competency in this world, something considerable with regard to profit; and I am not going to deceive you, by striking off all the profits, and saying you are losers on every point. No, I will go the whole length which any of you like to go, with regard to the profit of this world; if it be considerable. I will admit its greatness; if you think it possible to make a fine thing of this world, I will grant it, if you like; and after having admitted that, I will ask you. "Will it answer your purpose to gain the whole world, in the largest sense of that word, and yet lose your own soul?"

Monday, November 01, 2010

Monday Music - Rapping Heidelberg

For once, I can't embed this track, so you'll have to go over to Mahaney's blog to hear it.  It is, without doubt, the first ever attempt to 'rap' the Heidelberg Catechism.

I make no comment on rap music.  I make no comment on its suitability or otherwise for Christian worship. I make no comment at all on whether it's appropriate and helpful for Christian instruction.  I just say - go listen.

Then, let me know what you think.  Without being sycophantic or offensive.