We were fortunate enough to be at the end where most of the action happened, here are a few photos I took with my phone...
Getting up at 4.30 on Tuesday was horrible but being on a plane to see the sun rise made up for it, to an extent.
The bethinking.org website has had a makeover, still contains plenty of helpful articles to help you think.
What does Vladimir Putin want? Anne Applebaum gives an explanation.
The adventures of a Lego photographer are chronicled by Andrew Whyte.
Joseph Novak has created The Minimum Bible: a graphic design to introduce each of its books.
Is Spring arriving? The view from Bruntsfield Links suggests so.
It's easier for Daniel Sturridge to share his faith than Wayne Rooney, notes Adam Forrest.
If you haven't thought about how what you read shapes what you think, then read Rosaria Butterfield.
The Case of the Missing Plot, by Nick Cohen, the Sherlock story that suggests the internet is making us dumber.
If you like photos that make you feel dizzy, N.D. reports on urban explorers in Shanghai.
Lots of people give stuff up for Lent, 40acts suggests giving out instead.
If you like summaries like this, you might want to check out Yahoo's News Digest app (iOS only so far).
The Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors concluded their visit to Edinburgh...
It might be difficult for those under water to keep some perspective on the flooding, but Peter Oborne reminds the rest of us that we should.
How likely is it that "New Atheist" Sam Harris will change his mind? Not very, according to Jonathan Haidt, as he asks questions about how we reason. On a similar line, Ed West reflects on the certainties of youth.
If you like dreamy vocals, slick city sounds, and possibly Angel Delight, then Sounds Good To Me Too reckon you'll like Shura.
Finally, here's Amy Orr-Ewing speaking about where Christians should start when sharing their faith...
There are few things more wonderful for me than meeting people who have loved and followed Jesus for many decades. Whenever this happens, I'm reminded of Barnabas's reaction to the church in Antioch, where "he saw the grace of God [and] was glad" (Acts 11:23). I had that experience the other week when hearing Sandy Millar speak to a small group of student leaders in Edinburgh. His humility, love, confidence in God and obedience to Him were beautiful to behold.
Andrew Wilson describes Holy Trinity Brompton, the church which Millar led when the Alpha Course was launched, as the new centre of British evangelicalism. With millions having heard the good news of Jesus through Alpha, and an Alpha convert now Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems certain that Millar's name will be prominent in any account of the history of Christianity in the UK for this period. Not that he would see it that way: he repeatedly emphasised to us, "We're just running to keep up with God." Here are some of my highlights from what he said:
Explaining the success of Alpha: "God decided to have mercy." (Just dwell on that for a few moments!)
The church in England owes more to John Wimber than to anyone else since John Wesley. He gave us a model we didn't have.
When making a decision he knew would have massive repurcussions, he felt God say to him that he didn't have to be radical, just obedient. Just do the next thing God puts before you.
Everything good that's happened (and will happen) has been a ministry of the Holy Spirit. "That's vital." We can't tell how it's going to happen, and only God will get the credit. All we have to do is stay close to Him.
Team loyalty is a God-given thing, is godly, and is essential. Anyone can be disloyal, it's not a great achievement.
For younger, possibly frustrated leaders: when older leaders know where you're coming from, they relax and are more open to you. Explain what you're thinking, ask for help, speak well of them, pray for them and love them. It's worth a go.
He mentioned and encouraged using supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit as if it was the most normal thing in the world - something I rarely see, even among people who love them.UPDATE: Here's the recording of what he said:
I like taking pictures of well-stacked chairs.
I've taken a subscription to The Times, and have done a lot of my reading there. There are many good writers hidden behind the paywall (which, presumably, pays for them to write).
Checkov and the sea inspired Frank Cottrell Boyce to think again about his grandfather.
Christians love catchy phrases (probably because they spare us from thinking); Liam Thatcher doesn't.
As the Winter Olympics arrive, here's a video of a guy doing something cool on skis.
Neil Gaiman makes the case for reading and libraries.
Photographer Don McCullin speaks about his work and coping with evil...
I discovered some more of the Water of Leith.
A must read: Andrea Palpant Dilley reports on how new research is changing how we think about the history of many western missionaries.
If you've made it through "dry January" or are thinking about taking a break from drinking, Andy Coghlan has some encouraging news for you about the difference it makes.
Lara Prendergast assesses the impact of Buzzfeed on politics (with implications for other would-be influencers).
Facebook is about to release an app that's better for using Facebook than its main app, reports Dieter Bohn.
The gap between how believers experience faith and how it is typically portrayed is explored by David Brooks.
And finally, in an attempt to win back the West Wing wishful, the White House actually held a Big Block of Cheese Day...
I thought these bricks looked cool.
What does the ingredients list of natural items such as eggs and bananas look like? James Kennedy has the answer.
As the Syrian peace talks stumble on, Mary Wakefield tells the story of Father Paulo Dell'Oglio, "the one man who makes me hope for peace in Syria."
When you put the wild world and a great photographer together, you get results like Sebastião Salgado's Genesis.
Dan Snow challenges ten commonly-held believes about the First World War.
Protecting children from the muck of the internet is easier than you might think, as David Featherstone explains.
Baffled by the Old Testament? Andrew Wilson gives you the story and its key themes in ten minutes...
A dead whale was washed up near Edinburgh and taken away in a less than dignified manner. (Photo credit: Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme)
The fall of Christianity and the rise of a new intolerance in British public life is charted in helpful detail by Christina Odone. A similar theme is taken by Charles Moore in his assessment of how free speech is currently being determined.
PC sales are in decline and Marcus Wohlsen sees the web going the same way.
The Winter Olympics are coming! Emma Brockes celebrates the small stakes of figure skating.
I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said, "God created man in his own image, and man has been trying to repay the favour ever since." Nathanael Smith takes those kind of people to task.
Nice song by Josh Garrels, nice video by Daniel and Arian Armstrong...
How to make a modernist building look OK.
Dissatisfied with your shoelace knotting? Ian Fieggen is the man to sort you out.
"Local Church Full Of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week" is The Onion at its finest.
If you have sympathy with Alexis C Madrigal's summary of the internet, "It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what is out there is crap." then you'll be encouraged with the trend he suspects is on its way.
Lindsey gives six ways churches can love their single women.
An interview with Winston Churchill from January 1939 seems staggering to me for the shamelessly sophisticated level of language used.
Should orphan children put themselves last? Glen Scrivener gives a good answer.
David Gelernter critiques roboticism, but perhaps the keenest insight (in the introduction and conclusion) is that "Power corrupts, and science today is the Catholic Church around the start of the 16th century: used to having its own way and dealing with heretics by excommunication, not argument."
- God has shown us who He is through it: what He is like, what matters to Him, what that means for us.
- Regular Bible reading seems to be fundamental to Christian growth. According to Phil Moore, a recent church survey showed that, “People who read the Bible every day grow in their relationship with God far, far more than people who neglect to read the Bible every day.”
- As we read the Bible, we can hear God speak to us. He does in timeless ways, with all the great truths of His Word for us to discover (and be reminded of), and in timely ways, often speaking directly into our present circumstances through what we ‘happen’ to be reading.
- This in turn enables us to help others with wisdom we’ve learned over years as well as freshly-read encouragement, like the person Jesus describes in Matthew 13:52 “Therefore every scribe [teacher] who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
If you want to experience these things, here’s what I’ve learnt over the past twelve years of daily(ish) Bible reading.
You need a good study Bible. Find a modern translation in your native language, there’s no single specially-blessed-by-God version. I prefer a clear page layout that prioritises the Bible text and not any extras that the editors have included, however helpful they may be. Electronic versions are handy for their size and searchability, but I still think you should have a paper copy.
The features I find helpful are:
- Cross-references. The little letters you may see sprinkled around the text, these are like internet links, taking you to other parts of the Bible which deal with the same topic. They can give you more understanding of what you’re reading by leading you to related passages, which is the best way to figure out what the Bible means.
- A concordance. Similar to an index and found at the back of the book, this is a list of words from the Bible put in alphabetical order with verse references. Useful for finding that line you half remember but can’t recall where it’s from, or looking up all the instances of a certain word being mentioned.
- Book introductions. The Bible is a collection of books and contains many different types of writing from various times and places. Book introductions should explain what each book is like, as well as what it’s about, which can remove some of the obstacles to understanding what we are reading.
I use the mammoth ESV Study Bible (you can read a four-part explanation why here, if you like) but the edition I recommend is the ESV Global Study Bible, because I think it’s more efficient and cost-effective for most people. It’s available for less than £10 in paperback, and £20 for a more rugged version, for which you get a good translation, the features I’ve just mentioned, and a wealth of scholarship in a compact book.
My other two basic tools are a notepad and pen. I’ve found that writing helps me to think and concentrate, so I use these most days. Something different might work for you, try techniques and tools according to your personality and experience. I date what I’ve read and written to help me keep track of my progress and be able to look back on God’s goodness to me over time. You can also use them to jot down other important thoughts that suddenly appear in your head just when you need to focus on God’s Word, so you can deal with them later.
What to read
It’s the time of year when people are attempting to read the whole Bible in a year. I’ve done this a few times and I’m so glad I did. There are huge benefits and some risks:
- If you achieve it, the Bible will probably seem less intimidating to you from then on, you’ll have practiced a great spiritual discipline and potentially formed a lifelong habit, and you should have grasped something of the big picture of God’s Word. Plus you will have experienced all the goodness I mentioned at the start of this article.
- The main risk is that you despair and give up if/when you get a couple of days behind, which quickly adds up to an overwhelming number of chapters when the pace is three or four a day. There is also a lack of flexibility for different books (less than a week of your year’s reading on Ephesians?!), seasonal Bible readings (Lent/Easter, Christmas, studies your church has produced) and seasons of life. You might also fool yourself into thinking that God’s approval of you is at stake according to whether you have read it all or not, and then you really have missed the point.
With those encouragements and warnings, here are a bunch of one-year plans, all of which are available for free:
- Phil Moore accompanies his OT/NT/Psalms & Proverbs plan with tweets on each of the day’s readings.
- Alpha pioneer Nicky Gumbel’s Bible In One Year can be subscribed to by email or used as an app. Alongside the daily readings are reflections that link the texts you’ve read.
- For The Love of God provides comment by D.A. Carson on one of the four chapters you’ll have read. It’s also available in two books.
- YouVersion combines an electronic version of the Bible (multiple versions and languages available) with reading plans.
- Crossway offer ten different plans to choose from.
- Reading the Bible chronologically is an interesting exercise, with psalms and prophecies placed in their historic context. Doing this increased my appreciation for the arrival of Jesus, as you don’t start reading the New Testament until October.
You could go even faster but my usual pattern is two chapters a day, one from the Old Testament one from the New. If you do this every day, you will read the whole Bible in about two years. I simply read through both testaments one book at a time, which ensures that I don’t miss out on anything and don’t actually need a plan to reference, which removes the pressure to keep up.
What to do
Habits can be helpful, so if your life enables you to make a regular Bible reading time in the day, do so. This is my usual routine:
- Get awake. I read in the morning, after I’ve got washed, dressed and fed so I’m more alive to the world, but before I let the noise of the internet and the plans of the day into my head.
- Pray. I ask that God would open my eyes to see wonderful things in His Word (Psalm 119:18), and give me ears to hear what He is saying (Matthew 11:15 and elsewhere). God’s Spirit loves to answer these prayers: it’s why He gave us the Bible.
- Read. Carefully, just the text to start with. I may then read it again with the study tools I’ve mentioned above or other helps (see below), but I always want to start with the Word and the Spirit alone.
- Think and pray. I ask questions of what I’ve read to help me get started on this: What does it tell me about God? What do I need to do in response to it: worship, repent, pray, change by stopping or starting something, etc.? As I said, writing helps me to process this. The point isn’t to have got everything possible out of the chapter, but to have got something, to have heard from God and responded to Him.
I then go on to praise God in other ways, often based on what I’ve read, and pray about other things. This may not sound very spectacular but it has unquestionably changed my life, and many of my most memorable encounters with God have come at these times.
Many Christians have observed that the Bible is simultaneously shallow enough for a child to paddle in and so deep that no-one can fully fathom it. Reading it and hearing from God are part of a journey with Him, not a task to complete, so there’s always more for us to explore and enjoy. We are blessed to live at a time when so many people have worked so hard to help us in this:
- “New Ground In The Word” is a talk by Andrew Wilson about the basics of Bible reading.
- Why Trust The Bible? by Amy Orr-Ewing. A short book that deals with the most common objections to the Bible, which can rattle around a believer’s head as well anyone else’s.
- Bible dictionary. A one-volume investment that will put some weight on your bookshelf and help you answer questions such as, “Who is that? Where is that? What does that word mean?” I use the IVP New Bible Dictionary (Third Edition), I would expect Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible to be similarly helpful.
- How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. Explains all the different types of writings, and gives a more comprehensive look at the techniques and tools that I’ve mentioned here.
If you want to go even further:
- God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts shows how the Bible is a coherent single story with many related strands running through it.
- A single-volume Bible commentary (by IVP or Eerdmans again) will give further explanation of what you’re reading, or you could buy a companion to a particular book you’re working through, such as Phil Moore’s Straight to the Heart series, or Tom Wright’s For Everyone books. If you’d like to explore more technical commentaries, Keith Mathison has produced a list of recommendations for every book.
- Regularly reading people who love and honour the Bible will help you in your reading of it. The Think Theology team, John Piper, Ray Ortlund are among those for me; if the leaders and teachers in your church publish thoughts and writing online, follow them.
So what are you waiting for? You could hear God speak to you today! This article is longer than the first three chapters of Matthew’s gospel; if you’re able to read this then that shouldn’t be a problem for you. May you experience the living Word of God at work in you and through you.
Our great office staff had a great Christmas lunch at The Fountain Bar. This was my tingling mulled cider.
I watched and enjoyed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this week. It's much better than the first one, and Peter Bradshaw explains how to enjoy it.
There's been a lot of chat about "selfies" recently, so it's good of Ian Steadman to give us some historical perspective.
A Christmas party without a bottle opener is no longer a disaster, thanks to the skilled folks at Bistro Bordeaux.
Want a happy hipster Christmas? The Oh Hello's Family Christmas Album is available to download for free.
Does setting up a call centre in Bethlehem sound risky? Jerry Marshall did it: "as a Christian I find that I do take more risks".
And finally, here's a modern retelling of the Christmas story. Usually that kind of introduction is bad news, but these three short videos are worth watching...
Last Sunday at King's I spoke about loneliness and Christmas. You can listen to it here.
These are the edited highlights...
Loneliness is not the same as being alone, it’s the emotional pain caused by a lack of connection with others. It’s experienced all the time but perhaps more so at Christmas because of the communal nature of the celebrations.
The Bible has many lonely people in it:
- Joseph and Ruth were young people who found themselves isolated and vulnerable in foreign cultures. (Genesis 39:1, Ruth 1:22)
- The prophet Jeremiah was single all his long life – in a culture which didn’t have a word for bachelor. (Jeremiah 16:2,8)
- Moses grew so isolated leading the people of Israel that he asked God to kill him. (Numbers 11:14-15)
- Then there are the childless, like Abraham and Sarah, or Hannah, who suffer alone surrounded by growing families. (Genesis 15:2)
- Leah and Hosea both endure loveless marriages. (Genesis 29:30-32, Hosea 3:1)
- Esther risks her life by going alone into the King of Persia’s courtroom to speak with him. (Esther 4:16)
- Paul was imprisoned and abandoned. (2 Timothy 1:15)
- Anna endured a long widowhood. (Luke 2:36-37)
- John was exiled (Revelation 1:9)
- Job suffered greatly and only had the company of unhelpfully moralising friends. (Job 16:2,7)
There are moments of profound loneliness in the Christmas story: Mary has to believe by herself and cope with all the scandal, the local king wants to kill the baby so they flee to Egypt as refugees. As Jesus grew up He realised that He was different to everyone else, which everyone else started to notice when his public ministry began (Luke 9:57-58). Yet we can’t say that Jesus was truly lonely (Mark 1:35-36, John 16:32). Because of this, He is able to bring grace, God’s overflowing goodness, to those who are lonely: lepers, tax collectors, sinners… and he makes them into a new community.
He also deals with our estrangement from God, from where all the other fractures come, by being totally abandoned on our behalf (Matthew 27:46, Isaiah 53:3-6) so that we can be reconciled to God. Jesus and the Father now send the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to be with those who put their trust in Him (John 14:16, 16:7, Matthew 28:20), and churches are formed. So we can start to sing the songs of hope we find in the Bible (Psalm 27:10, 68:5-6, 147:3).
If you’re not a Christian, consider these words from Hubert von Zuller: “loneliness is really a homesickness for God.” Or as Augustine put it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” God is giving you the opportunity to come to Him, and know Him, however many times you may have pushed Him away.
Christians facing loneliness this Christmas can find solitude instead, cultivating the experience of God’s presence. Reflect on His goodness to you, fill your mind with His word, and you’ll discover more of Him in you and with you. You can talk honestly with Him and hear His voice speaking clearly in the Bible.
All of us can bring hope to others who are lonely, God uses us in this way and commands us to do it (Galatians 6:2, Romans 13:8, John 15:12). Take the initiative in this: start conversations, write cards and make calls to neighbours and family members, get involved in church projects.
Our flat is festive (and less wonky than this perspective suggests).
If you've ever read and believed anything about health and science in a newspaper, you should read what Anders Sandberg and Avi Roy have to say about it.
And if you'ever read and believed that the mediaeval church caused the "Dark Ages" then you must read Tim O'Neill's rebuttal of that myth.
Cartophiles will rejoice at what National Geographic and Google Maps have done.
Should church leaders should write books and tweet? Tims Keller and Simmonds are their characteristic selves on those subjects, respectively.
Krish Kandiah is more charitable about The Bible than I was, and explains why I perhaps should have been.
And finally, Milton Jones tells us about the 47 wise men...
If you're being asked by anxious relatives what they should get you for Christmas and you're not sure what to answer, these are all good, short (under 250 pages) books that will improve your life and may fit in your stocking...
- God's Lavish Grace by Terry Virgo. If you want to know how God relates to Christians, what He thinks of them, what's He's done for them, then you should read this. Foundational.
- The Good God by Michael Reeves. There aren't enough good books written about God. This is one of them.
- Humility by Andrew Murray. Very clear, very shaped by Jesus, and therefore very challenging. For most of us, this is a massive deal.
- Simply Jesus by Tom Wright. An immersive description of what was happening when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. It seemed weaker towards the end but I wouldn't have missed the first two-thirds for anything.
- The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper. The redux version of Desiring God is so short you won't miss its message. I love the truth in here.
I've also been asking and searching for other book lists. I'd recommend some recommenders more than others, but here they all are...
- Andrew Wilson: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller, Paul and The Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright "if you're feeling bold" - and strong, I'd add, as it's 1,680 pages.
- Phil Whittall: "Go classic and read Bonhoeffer's Life Together, go big with Mike Bird's Evangelical Theology, go to anything by Tim Keller or N.T./Tom Wright."
- Phil Moore: The Story of Christianity by David Bentley Hart
- Terry Virgo: Paul and The Law by Brian S. Rosner
- Nick Sharp: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
- Matthew Clifton-Brown: Christian: A Praying Life by Paul Miller, Jesus Is ... by Judah Smith, Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ by Thomas Shreiner, The Man Christ Jesus by Bruce Ware, Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller. Fiction: The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler, 1356 by Bernard Cornwell, The Generals by Simon Scarrow, A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr, Dominion by C.J. Sansom.
- End-of-year lists from The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, The Spectator, The New Statesman, The Observer, The New York Times (be warned, there's 100 here), The Times Literary Supplement.