Week 34: vote Potter, the power of memory, the best way to start the football season

I climbed up some of the Pentland Hills, and so did this old man and his dog.

Did Harry Potter affect how you vote? Anthony Gierzynski thinks he might have done.

Staying with the power of fantasy, Jeffrey Bilbro shows how J.R.R. Tolkien used hope and memory to celebrate and inspire goodness. (His surname sounds a bit Hobbitty, doesn't it?)

Paul Tripp also highlights the importance of memory for Christians in need of God's strength.

Alistair Roberts explains the principles behind modern sexual ethics.

If the insatiable size of Facebook leaves you feeling disconcerted and disconnected, Ben Popper has news of something you might prefer: Nextdoor.

Lore Ferguson is doing a series of interviews with influential single people.

As the football season is now upon us with all its seriousness, David Mitchell's peerless promo deserves a rerun...

Week 33: Apple training, sharks attacking, stadia crumbling

I finally got round to going through my photos from the Commonwealth Games.

How can we watch films/TV and read books well? Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, Alissa Wilkinson has some suggestions.

Matt Smethurst summarises teaching from John Piper about how Christians should view Israel.

The Olympic Games likes to talk about legacy: Steven Bloor has collected photos of what that looks like in Athens.

If you'd like to know how Apple trains people, Ben X. Chen has been trying to find out.

What happens when sharks attack?

God doesn't love you just the way you are (But He does love you)

I keep hearing Christians say that God loves them just the way they are, usually in the context of them explaining why it’s OK for them to do whatever they want. God seems to say something quite different, as the following quotes show (admittedly without much context, commentary, pause for thought, or caveats about how unlovingly and unwisely some of the passages have been used by some people):

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Proverbs 17:9)
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:14, 23-24)
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

Does this at all sound like the assessment of someone who thinks that you, just as you are, are OK?

What, then, is the love of God that Jesus has made known?

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

If you’re a Christian, God doesn’t love you just the way you are: He had to die because of the way you are. But because He loves you, He did that.

And because He loves you, He’s working with you to make you more like Jesus and less like you currently are. This is a process of change which will be completed when we pass from this life to the next:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son...” (Romans 8:29)
“We shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51)
“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

So for now we should be working to get closer to this wonderful destiny, rather than pleading to be accepted as we currently are. Look at how consistently this is taught in the New Testament:

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:14-19)
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practise every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)

That is infinitely better than being loved – and left – just as you are.



Robin Williams and life and death

My social media feeds are full of friends lamenting the suicide of Robin Williams and quoting their favourite films of his. The shock is obvious when you go through the list: every one involves Williams radiating energy, vitality. For me, it's Good Morning, Vietnam, where he is simply unleashed on screen and was the funniest thing I'd ever seen, so fast and so clever. That's what makes this news so horrible, the jarring contrast between the life (we should probably pronounce it "LIIIIIFFFFFFFFFE!!!!" as Williams' characters surely would) and death.

It isn't ever natural; sudden, shocking deaths like this tell us that starkly. Death is an imposter, an enemy. Christianity faces up to this honestly but not without hope. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the start of a great defeat which will be accomplished by His inextinguishable Life. That's the only hope there is.
"And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death...
"Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless."
(1 Corinthians 15:19-26, 54-58)

Saving you from selfies

A friend once described Instagram, the photo-sharing social network, as "a superb tool for generating envy, by showing you snapshots of people at their most interested while you are at your most bored." If you will follow people who post pictures of their face repeatedly then this could very well be the case - but it doesn't have to be that way. Although the temptation of face photo-sharing made easy has attracted millions to Instagram, there are people out there sharing much more interesting things, showing us more of the world and less of themselves:

  • National Geographic (@natgeo) shares images from all over the world posted by its photographers on assignment. It's a great combination of natural wonders and human interest, without being as clichéd as either of those phrases, with lots of variety because there are so many contributors
  • NASA (@nasa) expands your vision even further - to the limits of the known universe! The occasional astronaut selfie does pop up but that's forgiveable when they have the entire planet in the background.
  • David Guttenfelder (@dguttenfelder) is presently in America but often visits North Korea. I've learnt more about that strange place from him than anyone else.
  • Ditto Michael Christopher Brown (@michaelchristopherbrown) and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Dirk Bakker (@macenzo) specialises in finding patterns in Amsterdam's architecture.
  • Rob Lutter (@roblutter) is cycling around the world and taking photos as he goes.
  • Dylan Furst (@fursty) seems to live in a forest in America, where he processes his shots in a way that makes them look like nothing else.
  • Humans of New York (@humansofny) asks great questions and gets great portraits.
  • Kieran Kesner (@kierankesner) is another portraitist who goes deep.
  • Ruairidh McGlynn (@ruairidhmcglynn) spends most of his time in the mountains of Scotland.
  • Rodrigo Prieto (@rpstam) is a cinematographer and his photos prove it.

Elsewhere in week 32

Back from refreshing time off, which included enjoying this moment whilst camping at Newday.

If you're wondering how you can respond at all to what is happening in Iraq, Martin Saunders has some suggestions.

It's less in the news than a couple of weeks ago, but if you want to read a compelling argument against assisted suicide, I can't image there's much better than Hannah Rachel's.

With the film Left Behind soon to tarnish our cinema screens, Justin Taylor summarises the reasons Christians shouldn't expect to be snatched away.

The lamentable rise of Google Glass may lead to better days ahead, hopes Ellis Hamburger.

Steve Poole argues against spontaneity.

What does the rise of fantasy fiction tell us about ourselves and our relationship to the world? Alan Jacobs considers this at length.

Just read: First

Most students have lots of books to plough through, and most Christian students aren’t exactly sure how to follow Jesus whilst at university, so I’m grateful for Matt Carvel writing First: A Biblical Guide to Living for Jesus at Uni. It’s very short and easy to read but covers lots of key issues (see below) with Bible-based theory and practical advice.

The length is important not only for encouraging students who consider themselves time-harried to read it, but because it opens up opportunities for discussion rather than assuming to present an exhaustive final word on each topic. That’s how I intend to use it with the students I work with (that brevity might sometimes frustrate someone reading this by themselves), and I'm hopeful that they'll then want to go through it with others.

At £3.99 a copy, max (the price goes down the more you buy at 10ofthose.com) even the price can’t put you off. If you’re a Christian student going to university next month and you want to thrive and honour God through your university years, I’d strongly recommend you get this and find someone to read it with.

1. Your Life and God’s Plan
2. The Wide and the Narrow Gate
Part 1: Wisdom in Key Areas of Uni Life
3. Quality Time with God
4. Finding a Church
5. Study
6. Relationships and Singleness
7. Sex
8. Drinking and Drugs
9. Housing
Part 2: Practical Tools for Uni Living
10. The Top Five Questions about Relationships
11. A Ten-Minute Bible Study
12. A Ten-Minute Prayer Time
13. Help to Live Porn-Free
14. Further Reading
Part Three: The Gospel of John in Twenty-One Days

Back to Newday

Driving through the flat farmlands of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, the only buildings you’re likely to see from a distance are the old churches. In every village a spire rises, once the reference point and source of hope for all around, now more likely to attract pilgrims of local history and architecture. Past many we drove until something different broached the horizon: a blue Big Top, put up to accommodate 6,000 teenagers who were gathering to hear about and worship Jesus. Newday

My relationship with Newday goes deep but had become distant, moving to Scotland put me nine hours’ drive away from it and signalled the end of a certain level of involvement. Having attended every one since its inception in 2004, this was the first time I had made the journey in four years. A joy of the new and the nostalgic stayed with me for the whole event: innovations and improvements were everywhere, and so were many friends I hadn’t seen for so long. Memories of nearly being washed away in record-breaking downpours, of working together to organise a careful response to hundreds of kids rushing to commit themselves to God, of singing and chatter and laughter and ubiquitous acoustic guitars and footballs hitting tents and bleary-eyed morning greetings.

God never wallows in the past, however good it is. So I had the pleasure of seeing Him bless more lives in ways of His that are both new and timeless. Salvation, healing, challenge, comfort, community. The music moves on, making me feel slightly old but grateful that the songwriters here buck a current trend of celebrating ourselves to the marginalisation of God. Similarly the core team of leaders stay committed to God’s truth and explaining it in ways that connect but never condescend. As one of them put it, “we’ve heard terrible and glorious things.” I agree with Andrew Wilson's more detailed summary.

The response to all this begins at the event. Every afternoon, hundreds of young people poured out across the county to bring hope to its towns and villages, to those not fortunate enough to have been to something like this. In God’s grace, He brought it to them. The plans and commitment went further abroad: over £140,000 was given by these young people to plant and build churches across the world.

By a quirk of train routes, on my way home I passed four great cathedrals, each catching the eye despite the buildings around them, and wondered what foundations were being laid in a field near Norwich.

Just read: Can I Really Trust the Bible?

Can I Really Trust the Bible? is part of The Good Book Company’s “Questions Christians Ask” series. This title is clearly a question asked by people who aren’t Christians too but the tone of this book seems primarily aimed at people who have both faith and uncertainty, and wish for more of the former and less of the latter.

Barry Cooper claims to be inspired by the investigative reporter Winnie-the-Pooh, who, upon discovering a jar which claimed to contain honey, was not satisfied to leave the matter at that:
It had HUNNY written on it, but, just to make sure, he took off the paper cover and look at it, and it looked just like honey. “But you never can tell,” said Pooh. “I remember my uncle saying once that he had seen cheese just this colour.” So he put his tongue in, and took a large lick. “Yes,” he said, “it is. No doubt about that.”
Cooper asks three questions which follow Pooh’s pattern: does the Bible claim to be God’s word, does it seem to be God’s word when we look in it, and does it prove to be God’s word when we put it into practice? It’s a useful structure which takes in along the way a number of the key issues people have when considering the Bible’s trustworthiness whilst holding its own logic to build its case.

At under 100 pages long, the book’s brevity (and price) makes it an attractive place to start exploring this vital topic. For those who want their questions answered in greater depth, and with more focus on a non-Christian’s perspective, Amy Orr-Ewing’s similarly-titled and similarly-brief (144 pages) Why Trust the Bible? is an excellent alternative. Where Cooper is strongest is when his love and enthusiasm for God’s word is on display, which it is on most of its few pages.

It also has a promo video which made me smile...

Elsewhere in week 28

I visited the magnificent Kelpies.

A beautiful combination of photography, video, drawing and animation by Christoph Niemann explains what football means to Brazil.

On the flip-side, Henry Winter explains how Germany's victory over Brazil was a decade in the making.

Have you ever wanted to explore the words you read in the Bible more deeply? A new resource from Tyndale House will help you do that.

If you're not sure how restful your summer holiday will be, Steve Tibbert has shared some principles that might help.

The anxiety of Christians when sharing what they believe is soothed by Jenny Frank.

Vlad Savov explains how choosing your next new phone has much bigger implications than it used to.

Finally, here's what it's like to fly among fireworks (apologies for the soundtrack)...

You prayed but it didn't work out

Brazil’s football team and everyone associated with them, famously, pray a lot. This evening they were torn apart by a combination of German superiority and their own many weaknesses in the World Cup that they were hosting and borderline-neurotically desperate to win. Some people, innocent Christians and sceptical non-believers, might wonder what is up with that.

As it happened, I was listening yesterday to a talk by Timothy Keller that addressed this issue of whether believing in Jesus means your life will go well or not, based on Romans 8:28-30

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

It's a brilliant piece of teaching, dealing with an area of life so emotive for many Christians: their expectations. It's summarised in three points and goes deep into each one:

  1. Our bad things turn out for good.
  2. Our good things can never be lost.
  3. The best things are yet to come.

You can listen to it here, and you should: the truth in it is actually more incredible than a semi final finishing 7-1.


Elsewhere in week 27

I sat on a really big chair and pretended nothing was weird about that.

What motivates a Christian to make a horror movie? Scott Derrickson explains.

The question we've all been asking is answered definitively by Dan Kois and Andrew Bouvé: Who won the World Cup of arm-folding?

The are 59 instances of the phrase "one another" in the New Testament and Steve Alliston has listed them for us so we can be reminded of how to treat one other.

The meal of the week on our World Cup adventure was probably the home-made flour tortillas.

James Medd reports on how British TV is ruling the waves.

The demise of out-of-town shopping centres is noted by David Boyle.

Finally, that shot by Nick Kyrgios is probably worth watching again...

Report from the New Ground Leadership Conference

It took us eleven hours to get there, and less than two days after we’d arrived it was time to head home again – a mere eight hours this time. Thankfully, the New Ground Leadership Conference was worth it.

450 leaders were gathered in Burgess Hill of all places and some had come even further than we had: France, Holland, Italy, and Romania were all represented. Everyone in the group from Edinburgh said they'd been inspired not only by the teaching but by the news of what we're involved in together across Europe. Our excellent hosts, The King’s Church Mid-Sussex, made us feel welcome, and it was great to continue making and developing new friendships, as well as catching up with old ones. (One of the accidental pleasures of being part of this family of churches is that it includes the guy who was my youth leader and people who were in the youth work that I led subsequent to him.)

It won’t surprise anyone who has heard PJ Smyth speak to learn that he has two swords hanging in his office. His relish for the battle that God has brought us into is always evident, and in four densely-packed teaching sessions he gave an arsenal of expert advice. He’s an inspiring guy – among the stories he shared was one about the President of South Africa visiting his church to hear him preach on “What would God say to President Zuma?” – and he’s thoroughly worked out his philosophy and how to explain it. He spoke on the mission we have, the power of partnerships, the way God calls, how we should mentor people, and how to communicate the message we have. I made piles of notes and will have to spend a long time thinking through all that was said and talking with the people I work with about how we can put some of it into action.

Failure to do this would be to miss the point of the conference, as Dave Holden made clear in the final talk. Dave loves to tell us that we can’t go back to old ways, nor can we bask in the enjoyable present but we must put our energy into taking new ground (it’s a well-chosen name). If all of this sounds relentless, it was! But there’s a good way to be driven as well as a bad way, and this weekend was good: the opening talk by Chris Taylor reminded us of God’s grace for us, however we see ourselves; our times of sung worship were full of joy; every opportunity for fun or honesty was taken, during both the “formal” and “informal” parts of the conference. This is such a potent combination: the stretch of new challenges and the certainty of God’s love. I left encouraged and excited, and grateful to have been able to make the journey.

(Also, we found a massive chair.)

You can download the talks from the conference here.

Elsewhere in week 26

The flags we've been using for photos on Football Fan Food have also helped keep us up to speed with who is still in (at full-mast/toothpick) and who has been knocked out (at half-mast).

If you've been watching the World Cup and muttering about players writhing around on the floor, Geoff Foster has done the research to back up your complaints.

Hadley Freeman reports on how people in Brazil's favelas have been making the World Cup work for them.

Marcus Honeysett considers how Christianity could challenge middle class suburbia.

The boys at Sounds Good To Me Too have made a summer playlist for us all.

I love the BBC and so does Alex Proud.

Even more, I love John Piper's love for God, expressed in typical passion as he gives Christians twelve questions to ask before watching programmes like Game of Thrones.

Just read: The Story of Christianity

I’ve just read David Bentley Hart’s The Story of Christianity: A History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith (Quercus, 2013 Kindle edition). I found it really helpful as a well-written summary and introduction to most of the key themes of Christian history in less than 300 pages.

Unlike many Protestant historians that I might read, Hart is in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, so he doesn’t just know and tell the story of Christianity’s journey west, but goes east and south as well. He also corrects many of the black myths of Christianity, from the Crusades to the Scopes trial, whilst remaining honest about the church’s many mistakes. Where I found him slightly less charitable was in his treatment of Martin Luther and John Calvin, who are better served by Michael Reeves’ similarly accessible The Unquenchable Flame.