This week: firework fountain, asylum, salvation, lust, football transfers, a blue whale

The fireworks waterfall cascading down the rocks of the Castle at the end of Festival fireworks is perhaps my favourite Edinburgh moment in August.

Asylum / migration is very complicated (politics, etc.) and very simple (people are dying). The Independent's front page publication of a dead three-year-old boy, washed up on a beach, seems to have changed the nature of the debate the UK is currently having with itself and its neighbours. Gillan Scott calls on us to remember our Christian heritage, this petition calls on Parliament to "Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK."

Jesus is doing amazing things among Muslims all over the world, as Lucinda Borkett-Jones reports.

If you want to live a holy life in a sex-obsessed culture, Kevin DeYoung has fifteen points from Scripture that will help you. (I think he ought to have put his 11th point first, by the way.)

Rory Smith explains why football transfers are used by everyone in football to cover up the reality of what works in football.

Seeing a live whale out in the wild, as we did in the Azores, is one of the most incredible things you can do; Steve Backshall's response to a blue whale is appropriate:


This week: using jargon, tying shoelaces, keeping continuity, understanding gender, praying

I haven't been taking many photos recently, so here's a classic from Hill and Adamson: Newhaven Fishwives (1845). Thanks to Bryan Appleyard for the steady supply of great photos.

Should preachers use jargon when preaching? Liam Thatcher helpfully answers yes and no.

Talking of jargon, what do we mean by "woman" and "man"? Careful answers that trust and comprehend what God has said are needed, and Andrew Wilson has provided them excellently here and here respectively (ladies first).

In a similar vein but coming from a different perspective, Natasha Devon argues on the vital place of the father in a family.

Most people I know who try to pray find it difficult for one reason or another. If that's you, I'd strongly recommended Paul E. Miller's grace-filled book, The Praying Life. For a rather shorter inspiration, find out how getting a free charity diary helped Jennie Pollock's praying improve.

You wouldn't guess it during the football transfer window but continuity is one of the most important characteristics of a team. Gary Neville, who learned from one of the best, explains why.

What's the best way to tie your shoes? Glad you asked...

This week: a football mascot, preaching rules, trigger warnings, the Bible's story

This is what our church building looked like in 1878. It's a bit shorter now.

The new Partick Thistle mascot is called Kingsley. He became a global sensation and Chitra Ramasawamy has told his story.

Brian Houston lists his 30 rules for preaching at Hillsong.

What do you do when life is hard? Jennie Pollock assesses the respective wisdom of Inside Out, The Life You Never Expected, and Second Chance on this.

Amnesty International's decision to campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution gets Nick Cohen's ire for two reasons.

The dire consequences for intelligent thought and mental health of prohibiting anything that anyone doesn't like are described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

Here's the story of the Bible told in three minutes with some cartoon drawings...

Changing lives and changing a building

Last week I went to Newday again, and once again it was wonderful. I've said this many, many, many, many times before, and this video by the resident creative team shows the kind of thing that I'm always going on about:

Because of Newday I missed The Harmonium Project in Edinburgh. I've no regrets but this does look amazing:

This week: meditating on falcons, footballers, and faith; considering if are we sleeping incorrectly, using anti-perspirant incorrectly

I didn't take any photos, sorry.

The peregrine falcon and our desire to fly are considered by Mike Cosper. It's a lyrical piece which reminded me of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The Eagle (which should probably be called The Falcon).

Talking of poetry, John Piper has imagined what life on the new heavens and new earth will be like. The final thought is especially wonderful.

The fight for faith at fifty is described by Jon Bloom.

There's a network that keeps the world running and it's not the internet. On board a container ship, Tim Maughan explains.

Have we all been using anti-perspirant wrong? Chris Plante suggests we might be.

Have we all been sleeping wrong? Stephanie Hegarty adds to the head-messing of this week's links.

Alan Smith (neither of the Alan Smiths who played football professionally) reflects on Eric Cantona and his winning goal in the 1996 FA Cup final.

Edinburgh is great city to cycle around if you know where the paths are, and Mike Lewis is the man to tell you where they are.

It's not very summer-y in Edinburgh, however, but Craig Charles' list of ten "summer sizzlers" will get you in the mood whatever the weather.

This week: forgiving a bomber, feeding a million, reviewing a festival, scaling a solar system

I had a great day at St Andrews for the delayed final round of The Open. This was the only eagle I saw.

Kim Phuc was the young girl famously photographed during the Vietnam War running from a napalm bombing. The remarkable story of her journey to forgiveness is told by Paula Newton and Thom Patterson.

Harriet Alexander reports on how an idea in Scotland is now feeding a million children around the world.

Assuming all the necessary caveats about Christianity and politics, and Christian celebrities, I'm still rather stunned by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron preaching the gospel.

What can we do about the scourge of seagulls? worries Helen Rumbelow (£).

If you're a Christian and not sure when you should open your mouth and when you shouldn't, here's some good advice: Ray Ortlund considers when to cover and when to confront, and Jon Bloom outlines how to comment on the internet.

If you didn't make it to Latitude Festival this year, fear not, because Tom Careless did and can give you the low-down on 29 acts. 29!

If you haven't travelled through the solar system and want to get a sense of how big it is, Josh Worth has created a "tedious accurate" map which works on the scale of the moon = one pixel.

I'm loving Crowder's Neon Steeple and Jamie xx's In Colour, here are tracks from each of these...

This week: wolves and God's good, the human touch, stupid sports fans, doubts

We went to Cake Fest, and ate some of Edinburgh.

Wolves can make places better, hard things can make life better. Really. Ben Stuart explains.

Vlad Savov looks at how Apple and other tech companies are trying to regain the human touch in their products.

The nonsense of "real sports fans" is gets lambasted by Jack Moore.

The excellence of church-run parent and toddler groups is noted by Jubilee Plus, with advice on how to do them well.

Every Christians struggles with doubt at some time or other, so it's worth reading Krish Kandiah's advice on how to help others when they do.

You don't have to make your own annotated Bible as the American theologian Jonathan Edwards did, but Matthew Everhard suggests how you can still learn from Edwards' example.

How victory can be won

At the church service at Emmanuel AME in Carleston this Sunday, Rev Norvel Goff  preached:
“Someone wanted to divide the races black and white and brown. A lot of folk expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don’t know us. They just don’t know us because we are people of faith.”
By coincidence, I am currently reading a collection of sermons by Martin Luther King, published as Strength To Love. Here's what he said about loving your enemies:
"To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey unjust laws, because non-co-operation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'"
That's what you see happening in the video above, as a murderer is told by the relatives of those he killed that they forgive him. The husband of a murdered wife tells her killer:
"I forgive you and my family forgives you but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change it, and change your ways no matter what happened to you and you'll be okay through that. And better off than how you are right now."
Another is honest enough to declare herself a "work in progress" in this. All of them will have years of such "work" but they have begun in the best way.
"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
There has been a lot of discussion during this about whether this is easy forgiveness, and whether the victory King envisaged will every come to pass by the methods he proposed. As for America, I don't know but I'm hopeful. As for the individuals involved, I'm totally confident:
"This is the victory that overcomes the world - our faith." (1 John 5:4)

I don't want to live in a world like Jurassic World

We don’t know much about her but we know that she’s called Zara and she is engaged. A throwaway line in an earlier plot device told us that. Zara is about to be discarded from Jurassic World altogether but she has one more use to serve. For a prolonged period she is thrown about from one flying dinosaur to another before she falls into a massive pool from which we’ve earlier seen an enormous swimming dinosaur leap up to eat a dead shark. Now she is in the pool. The swimming beast does not appear, yet, because anticipation heightens the entertainment, so Zara is left to splash and scream until she is picked up again by another flying dinosaur and taken, desperate, into the air once more. Now the climax comes as out from the water the aquatic beast leaps, devouring both her and her winged assailant, for comic effect. The movie moves swiftly on.

I don’t see many blockbuster movies but all those that I do have put creative effort into imagining how people could be killed. Shouldn’t we find that odd?

Early in Jurassic World, the owner of the titular theme park describes how he has created it in order to humble people, for them to see how small they/we are in the story of this planet and for them to sense the fear that comes with not being at the top of every food chain. The amorality of survival of the fittest is at work here. Zara is treated with similar contempt by the film makers. I had to look up her name, whereas the pteradons and mosasaur are namechecked repeatedly; her death serves no moral purpose, it’s just meant to be funny.

As I walked from the cinema troubled by this, I thought about The Lord of The Rings. Peter Jackson’s original film trilogy had chart-toppingly high death counts (though he might counter this by saying that many of his casualties were non-humans). His source text didn’t flinch from death but didn’t luxuriate in it either. Here’s how the death of one unknown enemy combatant is treated in the book The Two Towers, as seen through the eyes of the character Tolkien takes us deeper into than any other, Samwise Gamgee:
“It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace”
I think that Tolkien has returned here to the trenches of the First World War where he fought. He had seen death and did not like it at all. His humanity was informed by his Christianity and, although he was a Catholic and no doubt disagreed with much that John Calvin wrote, he would surely have agreed with this from The Institutes of the Christian Religion:
“[W]hatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, ‘He is a stranger’; but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh. Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless’; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image… Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions… Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”
When we consider what western culture is forfeiting as it discards Christianity, this is surely near the top of the list. We become beasts.

This week: a fair phone & when not to use it, a faithful woman, a great supermarket, football memories, and me on TV

The weather up here still isn't summer but the light stays around for hours and when you're cycling around Arthur's Seat and this comes into view, everything is great.

If you've wanted a mobile phone that is kinder to the planet and people on it, you may find James Vincent's report on Fairphone 2 of interest.

Whatever phone you have, Tony Reinke makes a strong case for not letting it be the first thing you look at in the morning.

The life and faith and Saviour of Elizabeth Eliot, who recently departed this life, is celebrated by Kay Warren.

Geoffrey Lean has visited the supermarket that helps solve food waste and poverty.

Pavarotti's voice, Schillaci's eyes, Gazza's tears... Amy Lawrence remembers all that and more from Italia '90, the World Cup that gave us modern football.

It seems that I may have been the star of an advert on TV without even realising I was in it. Or maybe the guy here just looks a bit like me. You decide...

Summer reading

The picture above is utterly unrealistic as a depiction of summer in Scotland so far this year, but here's some good reading whatever the weather happens to be like where you are:

I can’t praise Michael Reeves’ books The Good God and Christ Our Life any higher than by saying that me make me love God more. Both are very short and feel easy to read, but both also have great depth to them.

If you’re feeling that your life is in a bit of a state, or you just want to get some solid foundations in it, Simplify by Bill Hybels could be very helpful. Hybels is an amazing combination of pragmatist and Spirit-led Christian. He shares his wisdom on key areas of life that most of us realise could do with a bit more careful attention such as time, money, and relationships.

A good measure of a book is how long it stays with you. I’ve been enjoying my daily times with God a lot more since reading Paul Miller’s A Praying Life last spring. He is good company for anyone who struggles with praying, and even if you don’t follow his model he will help you to think about how and why you pray.

I’ve recently finished reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson for the third time. It’s still wonderful, a beautiful consideration of what Christian faith can feel like. It requires concentrated time but will repay your commitment.

If you’ve decided that this summer you really want to get started with reading the Bible, here’s a guide to doing that.

I’ve also put together a long list of recommended resources on a load of different Christian topics, so if you’re looking for something on a certain subject that may be of help.

If you're reading isn't quite what you'd like it to be, Erik Raymond has some suggestions to help you read more.

Christ Our Life

Here’s how Michael Reeves begins his wonderful new book about Jesus:
“Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, is the Beloved of the Father, the Song of the angels, the Logic of creation, the great Mystery of godliness, the bottomless Spring of life, comfort and joy.” (ix)
This sets the tone for what follows: a rich celebration of the nature, character and achievements of Christ across eternity. As I said when recommending his previous work, The Good God, we need far more books about God and what He has done/is doing than we need books about us and what we should be doing. Reeves exemplifies this, appropriating Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s advice that, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

That is not his only distinction as a popular-level Christian writer. He is also good at writing and concise. Those two qualities don’t have to go together but it’s a blessing to apprehensive readers when they do. Reeves is simultaneously systematic, biblical, historical, as well as engaging and even funny. If you struggle to enjoy Christian books, or have found theology dry and irrelevant, read Christ Our Life and discover what you’ve been missing.

If you feel under-resourced when worshiping or praying, this could be greatly beneficial. My heart was stirred to praise God again and again as I read; he also gave me some fresh insights on well-known Bible passages, introduced me to a starry cast of theologians, and helped me see how wonderful truths I already knew could fit together in ways I hadn’t appreciated before.

Here he is talking about the relationship of Christ and His church using the biblical metaphor of marriage:
“The Bride and the Bridegroom have become one, and we are now together, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death, when we meet.” (71)
On the resurrection:
“The reign of death and corruption was undone, and a human being now stood, body and soul, wholly beyond the reach of the curse.” (57)
On the exclusivity of Jesus:
“He himself said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). That could sound unnecessarily tribal or snobbish but for this: there is no-one else who offers what he offers. Some religions offer paradise or nirvana; he shares with us himself, his very sonship, his life before the Father. If the gospel was about God sharing some thing other than himself, then Jesus’ words would sound cliquey. Why couldn’t others be purveyors of that thing? But since the blessing he bring is himself and his own life, it is plain nonsense to think of him as just one religious stall, much the same as others. Others can offer ‘God’ or ‘salvation’ but only when someone offers Jesus do they offer the same thing as the gospel.” (107)
My only complaint is slightly facetious: the book’s production underplays its content. I don’t blame the publishers for making it thin and monotone (cover image excepted), i.e. affordable, but really the subject and style of this work should be matched by a luxurious artefact: a font that is lustrous, bold and flamboyant, with illustrations of eye-popping colour, printed on parchment, between covers that will last a lifetime.

This week: "summer" rain, budget cooking, internet raging, being an exile, what to call a leader

Summer's not really getting its act together around here yet.

The Internet is always raging about something or other, if not several things. Brant Hanson shows how the gospel should shape how Christians respond to this, and Ian Flitcroft thinks that writing in the style of Jane Austen would help everyone.

An introduction to cooking on a budget is given by BBC iWonder.

The substitution of the title "leader" for "elder" in our churches is challenged by Andrew Wilson, who suggestions that "guardian" is more accurate.

The plight and faithful response of Christian communities in Iraq is reported on by Michael Nazir-Ali.

The church in the west is in a less life-threatening position but equally in need of counsel about how to respond to changing times. Stephen McAlpine takes the view that life is going to feel a lot more like exile in Babylon than in Athens.

How do preachers reach their listeners' hearts? Tim Keller, promoting his new book, shares from his experience.

This week: getting paid more, avoiding disaster, an angry gay atheist, good inequality

King's hosted a wonderful conference with New Ground - much of the chatter can be found at #MiCon2015. Then I went along to Ten8, which students from King's have helped to set up and serve in order to bless Edinburgh. There are many good things happening, some of which are recorded on Instagram.

The work of Assemble in helping to bring life to Toxteth has earned them a Turner Prize nomination. Oliver Wainwright reports on what they've done.

Adrian Chiles spent 46 consecutive days visiting Catholic churches. Maybe that's what you need to do after working with Roy Keane.

In an excerpt from his latest book, Phil Moore looks at why refueling is so important for Christians. As if to emphasise Phil's point, Garrett Kell considers the research on what characterises pastors who fall into sin, which is no doubt as true for all the other believers.

"Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change?" Matthew Parris wins Sentence of the Week, whilst arguing as a gay atheist that the church should oppose same-sex marriage.

If you want your boss to pay you more, show them Tim Weinhold's article. He explains how paying workers better wages is both biblical and smart business sense. In yet another parallel piece, James K.A. Smith ponders what's right with inequality, as well as what's wrong. The last line is brilliant.

Finally, here's the story of King's so far...

This week: stupid Christians, pushy parents, philistine socialists, interactive maps, embroidery

We went to a very picturesque wedding.

The reasons why young Christians (guys especially) can be so stupid sometimes, even when they have plenty of knowledge, are explored by Darren Carlson.

Jonathan Jones explains why our architectural heritage is so important to understanding who we are.

The true source of exam pressure is parents, suggests Janice Turner (£).

Ten lessons that Ray Ortlund's father taught him.

Without wishing to blow our trumpet, this reflection by Anna Delamerced on her time at King's shows what's at stake in church student work.

If you've ever wanted to see an interactive map of the world's major mass transit systems, say thank you to GeOps and the University of Freiburg.

Finally, a celebration of Magna Carta in emboidery...