Friday, August 22, 2014

Relaxing on Holiday

At Pembrey Country Park reading Ten Cities that Made an Empire, by Tristram Hunt. Next up, a bike ride.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

At Carmarthen

We're spending the second week of our hols in Carmarthen. Due to some confusion or other, it became evident that the visiting preacher booked this Sunday for Carmarthen Evangelical Church wasn't going to turn up. Meaning that the pastor, Chris Rogers, who's also meant to be on holiday, had to speak in the morning. I offered to preach in the evening. Off to Tenby, one of our favorite places in Wales, if not the world tomorrow.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Butter on Welsh Cakes?

Etiquette query: Is it right to put butter on Welsh Cakes? I say that doing so would be as culturally appropriate as using a love spoon to stir your tea. Thoughts?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Don Carson on Christ's gifts to the church

DAC's final conference address was on Eph 4:1-16. His theme was 'Captured by Christ: A Life Worthy of the Calling we Received'. 

Walking worthy of our calling involves 'keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' (Eph 4:1-3). Paul's appeal is grounded in three theological reasons:

1. Christian unity (Eph 4:4-6)
2. Christian diversity (Eph 4:7-12)
3. Christian maturity (Eph 4:13-16)

Under the second heading Carson considered Paul's use of Psalm 68:18 in Eph 4:8. The Psalm says 'you have received gifts from among men', while in the apostle's citation it reads, 'gave gifts to men'. Carson justified Paul's use of the Psalm by referring to the background to David's statement in Numbers, where the Levites are given to the Lord, who in turn gives them to the priests (Numbers 8:15-16, 19, 18:6). In one sense the believer has been taken captive by Christ, who 'receives us from among men'. In another sense, as with the Levites, Christ gives those who are his to the church for the building up of his body. Christ takes us to give us. We are captive to him and freely poured out by him to bring the church to maturity. Understanding that will help us keep the 'unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'. 

This message brought Carson's series on 'The Church of God & the Clash with the Culture' to a fitting conclusion as the preacher challenged us to find freedom in serving the church as slaves of Christ. Counter-culturally we are not to approach the church as consumers, for what we can get out of it, but as servants for what we can give so that others are built up in Christ. I was reminded of John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14, 

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
(John Donne, 1572-1631)

See the conference videos here

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Atop Constitution Hill

Rain was forecast.
Always rains in Aber
according to the BBC.

But in defiance of Aunty,
the Lord decreed sunshine
to warm the breeze
atop Constitution Hill.

Don Carson on the church as the new temple

A workmanlike exposition of Eph 2:11-22 from DAC this morning, under the headings:

1. Our pre-Christian past Eph 2:11-12
2. Our transforming Saviour Eph 2:13-18
3. Our Christian present Eph 2:19-22.

We were once far off from God, strangers to the blessing of the old covenant. But Christ has not only reconciled us to God, but also reconciled Jews and Gentiles as one new humanity. The church is the new temple that is founded upon Christ and in which the glory of God is disclosed by his indwelling Spirit. Some good applicatory hints on how the gospel destroys racism and that our churches should repent from a divisive spirit could have been worked out more thoroughly. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Don Carson on the glory of God's omnipotence

In his second Aber Conference address, Don Carson spoke on Paul's prayer in Eph 1:15-23. He began by reflecting on the interrelationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility in prayer. Prayer 'changes things' not by persuading the Lord to change his mind, but because it is the divinely appointed means by which the Lord fulfills his eternal purposes.

There is a tight relationship between Paul's praise in Eph 1:3-14 and his prayer in Eph 1:15-23. What God has purposed for his people, such as knowledge of 'the mystery of his will' (Eph 1:9) is precisely what Paul prays for on behalf of the Ephesian church in Eph 1:17. His prayer is in sync with God's plan for his people and is a means by which the Lord's plan is richly fulfilled in his people.

In the last petition of the prayer Paul prays for power for the Ephesian believers, Eph 1:19. As God is omnipotent, no task is either more easy or more difficult for him. Creating a universe requires no more effort for him than creating the most wisp-like of sub atomic particles. His mightiest works require no expenditure of divine energy. 'He can act when he reposes and reposes when he acts.' (Herman Bavinck). However, to illustrate the power of God that Paul prays will be at work in the believer, the apostle does not refer to the creation of the world by divine fiat. Rather, he speaks of 'his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand...' Eph 1:20. 

It took no greater 'effort' for God to raise Jesus from the dead than to create the vast universe from nothing. But the resurrection of Jesus revealed more of the glory of God's omnipotence. His glory is supremely revealed in the work of redemption, at the heart of which is the death and resurrection of Christ. The reason why God displays his glory in saving lost sinners is not because he needs our approval or praise to complete him in any way. From eternity God was superabundantly satisfied in the loving communicative action of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In redemption, the truine God acts to draws alienated sinners to himself that we may enjoy restored communion with him and so glorify his name. He wants us to glorify him because that is what is best for us. Our lives can have no more higher or satisfying end than to worship the God of the gospel and be enclosed in his love. 

Conference meetings are live broadcast here at 11am & 7.30pm. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On the occasion of my birthday

I always seem to get one year older when in Aber.

Don Carson on 'the heavenly places'

Good stuff today from DAC at this morning's Aber Conference on Ephesians 1:3-14. Especially his explanation of 'the heavenly places' in Eph 1:3 as "the spatial equivalent of inaugurated eschatology". If inaugurated eschatology is about time, the 'now and not yet' of salvation, then 'the heavenly places' is about space, the 'there, but still here' of salvation. In terms of space, Christ is 'seated at God's right hand in the heavenly places' Eph 1:20, while the believer is still on earth. However, in another sense, on being united to Christ by faith we 'sit together with him in the heavenly places' Eph 2:6. That is spatially inaugurated eschatology, 'there, but still here'.

The Spirit is the one through whom eschatology is inaugurated both in terms of time and place. The believer is 'blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ' Eph 1:3. The Spirit is the seal and deposit of our future inheritance, Eph 1:13-14. He also bridges the gap between the believer on earth and the exalted Christ at the Father's right hand so that in him we have already drawn up a chair in the heavenly places. Our being there, while still here guarantees that we shall be forever with the Lord in the Father's presence by the power of the Spirit in resurrection glory.

All to the praise of our God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has generously tied up his supreme glory with the redemption of rebel sinners.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Going Underground

At the 'Silver Mountain Experience' nr Aber.

At last! An Archbishop of Canterbury recognises that Islamists slaughter Christians - Spectator Blogs

Intervening in Iraq against the 'Islamic State' is not abut the 'Christian West' vs. Islam, but about protecting the vulnerable and weak of whatever faith against the murderous forces of barbarism and hate. Well said, Archbishop.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Off to Aber and beyond

We're off to the EMW Aber Conference and then for a week in Carmarthen after that. The main speaker is Don Carson, so we're looking forward to some good ministry and fellowship. On my holiday reading list will be Ten Cities that Made an Empire, by Tristram Hunt and Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings. I'll probably throw in something theological and perhaps a novel as well. It'll be our first time away without our two. No more theme parks and crazy golf for us. Regrettably. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Why does God allow war? (Part 2)

In Part 1 I reflected on the question, 'Why does God allow war?' Now I suggest some lessons that might be learned from the conflict. 

Human beings are not good as we hoped

The Enlightenment was in part a revolt against the biblical view of man. The doctrine of original sin was ridiculed by Enlightenment thinkers. They proclaimed the original goodness of human beings and hoped to create a brave new world based on reason, not revelation. It was confidently predicted that the onward march of human progress would continue unimpeded. Developments in science, the arts, education and politics would see to that. Yet it was the great 'Enlightened' European nations that went to war in 1914; Germany, France, Russia and Britain. Millions lost their lives to bullets, bayonets, shells, mustard gas and the squalor-induced diseases of the trenches. It is no good scanning the heavens looking for someone upon whom to pin the blame for the ‘Great War’. As Shakespeare put it, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ Or as the Bible says, James 4:1-3. Of the barbarity of the 1914-18 war Winston Churchill reflected,

When all was over, torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and these were of doubtful utility.

The Christian faith holds that human beings were made in the image of God. That accounts for our achievements in science, the arts and governance. But we are sinners, living in a fallen world. It’s not simply that we have a ‘good side and bad side’, but human beings are radically inclined towards sin and rebellion against God. WWI led to loss of the ‘innocence’ not to say the naiveté of the optimistic Enlightenment view of human nature. What made it worse was that WWI was not in fact  ‘War to end All Wars’. It was hoped that the the 1914-18 War so horrific that nation would never again take up arms against nation.  That was not to be. Human beings have been fighting since the dawn of time, when Cain killed his brother, Abel. WWI was followed by WWII. Today the news is dominated by terrible conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Gaza. As is often said, ‘history teaches us that history teaches us nothing’. We never seem to lean because sin is too powerful a force for us to break free of its shackles, John 8:34. Sin is man’s stubborn refusal to let God be God. We reject the giver of life and peace and the inevitable results are death and disharmony.  The Great War makes us face up to the moral frailty and brokenness of all human beings. But what is to be done about it?

Human beings do not have the answer to the problem of sin

The nations involved in WWI were not uncivilised backwaters, but the ‘Great European Powers’. They prided themselves on their cultural achievements and claimed to have a civilising effect on the world through their Empires. Nine distinguished Cambridge academics wrote to The Times on the eve of the outbreak of the war, ‘We regard Germany as a nation leading the way in Arts and Sciences, and we have all learnt and are learning from German scholars. War upon her in the interests of Serbia and Russia will be a sin against civilisation.’ But it was precisely that nation that was bent on plunging Europe into war by first invading Belgium and then France. Kaiser Wilhelm II was an advocate of ‘social Darwinism’. He believed that large, wealthy, and ‘fit' nations should dominate the ‘less fit' races of their colonies. Not content with that, he also wanted Germany to dominate the continent of Europe. Being a nation that ‘led the way in Arts and Sciences’ didn't prevent Germany from recklessly provoking global conflict. Despite the undoubted cultural achievements of the human race, we do not have the answer to the problem of sin that has disfigured human history. Margaret Thatcher once wrote,
For years when I was young and in politics with all my hopes and dreams and ambitions, it seemed to me and to many of my contemporaries that if we got an age where we had good housing, good education, a reasonable standard of living, then everything would be set and we should have a fair and much easier future. We now know that this is not so. We are up against the real problems of human nature. Why is it that we have child cruelty in this age? Why is it that we have animal cruelty? Why is it that we have violence?... Why is it that people take to terrorism? Why is it the people take to drugs? These are much, much more difficult problems.... Why, when you have got everything, do some people turn to those things which undermine the whole of civilisation? 
Why indeed? We have no answer to that question.  

Only God has the answer to the problem of human sin

Famously on Christmas Day 1914, hostilities between the British and German forces ceased. The troops conducted a football match in 'No Man’s Land'. It seemed somehow appropriate that the guns should fall silent on Christmas Day. Hadn't a multitude of angels announced the Saviour's birth saying, 'on earth peace, goodwill to all men'? (Luke 2:14). Battle recommenced next day, giving a hollow ring to those words. But the Bible did not promise that following Jesus’ birth never again would a saber be rattled, or shot fired in anger. Jesus didn't come to generate some kind of general spirit of goodwill by telling people to be nice to each other. Judged by that standard his mission failure. No, Jesus said, that wars would continue until the end of time, Mat 24:6.

Christ came to bring a different kind of peace, peace with God, John 14:27. His peace would not be 'as the world gives you'. That is, a mere cessation of hostilities. Thank God that the European nations are no longer at war! But that is partly due to the advent of nuclear missiles making war between what remains of the 'Great Powers' unthinkable and partly due to the economic self-interest of European nations being served by the EU. It doesn't mean that a spirit of harmony and brotherhood now reigns, as the constant rows in the EU testify.

WWI only ended because Allied soldiers fought and died for their country. They "gave their tomorrows for our today". We rightly honour their sacrifice and remember them with gratitude. Our Chapel War Memorial carries the words, "Their lives laid down so others might have life." The men whose name are inscribed in than simple monument made the ultimate sacrifice. What a terrible price was paid by that generation to preserve our way of life. Rev Prince William and Amy Beechy lost five sons to the Great War. Amy Beechey was presented to King George V and Queen Mary who thanked her for her immense sacrifice. She responded. "It was no sacrifice, Ma'am, I did not give them willingly."

It required a great sacrifice for us to be reconciled to God. Though Jesus God entered our world of suffering and pain as man. He came however, not simply to sympathise with us in our wretchedness, but to save us. Jesus willingly sacrificed himself, laying down his life for our sins upon the cross. The most tragic thing about sin  is not that it causes alienation and war between nations, but that it alienates us from our Maker. Jesus died to put us right with God. That was the measure of his love for us, John 15:13. His death satisfied the demands of God's justice that we may be reconciled to him, Romans 5:1. By his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of evil and darkness. Christ gave his life not simply for out tomorrows, but for our eternity.

The Lord Jesus will return as the Prince of Peace to finally conquer evil and bring an end to suffering and war, Isaiah 2:4. If there is no God we cannot be certain that good will triumph over evil. But the good news of Jesus fills us with hope that love and peace will win out in the end, John 14:27, 16:33. The gospel calls us to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Crown him the Lord of Peace! Psalm 46:8-10.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Why does God allow war? (Part 1)

On 28th June 1914 shots rang out in Sarajevo. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie were gunned down in cold blood while being driven from a reception in the Town Hall. The twenty-year-old assassin was Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslavian nationalist. Like other radicals he was resentful of Austro-Hungarian rule over his country. The Archduke was heir to the Austro-Hungarian Imperial crown. 

The assassination of the Franz Ferdinand was the catalyst for the outbreak of the First World War as the Great Powers of Europe acted to protect their interests and cement their alliances. By the end of that most bloody global conflict around 16 million people lay dead, 888,246 of whom were British or colonial soldiers. War Memorials erected in every city, town and village of the UK testify to the huge loss of life on foreign battlefields. Ten members of Providence Baptist Church lost their lives in the Great War. Our War Memorial records their names:
To the Glory of God and in loving memory of the men
of this church who fell in the Great War 1914-18 
F. H. Daniells - F. H. Noakes
W. Ingram - E. J. Woodward
C. D. Millard - W. G. Noakes
E. J. Grant - A. V. Brown
H. J. Mizen - A. J. Newman  
Their Lives laid down that others might have life 
A sense of foreboding pervaded Europe in the days leading up to the outbreak of WWI, 100 years ago today. Russia mobilised its troops to protect the Serbian Slavs from annihilation at the hands of the Austro-Hungarians as revenge for assassinating their Archduke. Meanwhile Germany and their Austro-Hungarian allies mobilised to attack Serbia, Belgium and France. Britain and France were desperately trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. As a gap lamp lighter went about his business on the streets of London, Foreign Secretary Edward Grey mused, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ 

Some, however were excited by the prospect of war. Winston Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine: ‘My darling One & beautiful – Everything tends towards catastrophe, & collapse. I am interested, geared-up & happy.’ The reality of war was somewhat different, however. Churchill’s ill-conceived military adventure in the Dardanelles left him devastated as his attempt to open up a second front by invading Turkey ended in failure. The First Lord of the Admiralty resigned his post and signed up for military service in the trenches of France in an attempt to atone for his political sins. A member of Providence Baptist Church, Edmund James Grant lost his life at Gallipoli.

WWI saw the introduction of mechanised warfare on a massive scale. It is said that the artillery bombardment of German lines at the outset of the Battle of the Somme could be heard from England. An estimated 200,000 – 400,000 allied soldiers lost their lives amid the mud and blood of Passchendaele. Of that battle a haunting anecdote survives, ‘A party of men passing up to the front line found a man bogged to above the knees. The united efforts of four of them with rifles under his armpits made not the slightest impression, and to dig, even if shovels had been available, was impossible for there was no foothold. Duty compelled them to move on up to the line, and when two days later they passed down that way the wretched man was still there; but only his head was visible and he was raving mad.’

Civilians also came under attack. Around 17,000 British people were killed by German air raids. The atrocities of WWI prompted many to wonder, ‘Where was God in all this?’ To pose the question is to touch on the problem of evil. There are no easy answers to this problem, but we need to be clear on two things. First, the Bible insists that God is good, just and in sovereign control of his world. Second, human beings are responsible for their own actions. God may allow war, but it’s man that does the fighting. We cannot understand why God would willingly permit evil on a small or large scale. Faith seeking understanding may sometimes have to content itself with the fact that God's ways are past finding out.

For some, seeing the horrors of war first hand or through news reports may induce a crisis of faith. What C. S. Lewis experienced as a soldier in in WWI helped convince him that there was no God. The unimaginable cruelty and injustice he witnessed at the Battle of the Somme was enough to snuff out any lingering vestiges of belief. But later he reflected,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I com­paring this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. 

The very problem that caused Lewis to lose his faith helped him to recapture it. Our outrage at the cruelty and injustice that often takes place in war assumes that God exists as the One who takes his stand against evil and barbarity. Apart from his existence the problem of evil makes little sense. If there is no God random stuff happens, both harmful and beneficial. There is no rhyme or reason for it. There is no sense in even asking, 'Why?', as the question implies that there is some higher purpose to life, which there cannot be if there is no God. 

But faith offers no simple answers. We have to be careful it comes to addressing the question, ‘Why does God allow war?' The Lord has not provided us with a running commentary on his purposes in history, Deuteronomy 29:29. But we may perhaps discern his  voice speaking to us through events such as WWI. What may he be saying to us today as we contemplate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War?

To be continued....