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...

 

This week: consequences of the ascension, the election, and the making of bread


We celebrated my sister-in-law Maria's birthday by watching the sun set from Blackford Hill. It was chilly but worth it.

In a beautiful essay, Gerrit Dawson explains why the ascension of Jesus is so wonderful and important.

Andrew Marr considers what the UK election means for politicians and reporters and Martin Charlesworth gives his thoughts on what it means for churches.

How do a Christian husband and wife think about their service? Hannah Anderson has a good metaphor.

The evils of mass produced bread are exposed by Liam Thatcher.

There are some amazing pictures of sharks on the BBC's advert article for its new series, unimaginatively entitled Shark.

Election Reflections


The diagram above represents the views of many people I know, and realising this should help many of us grow up a bit. Social media is a great enforcer of prejudice: we supply ourselves with a steady stream of content we already agree with, plus occasional horrified links to Terrible Things That No-one Like Us Would Like (usually from the Daily Mail or Crazy America). Satirical website The Onion nails it. This is a childish way to behave: it encourages self-satisfaction, and the demonization of those who are different from us. It’s also profoundly intolerant, when you think about it. I like being agreed with as much as the next person, so I force myself to read well-written articles that I might not like in order to understand other viewpoints and maybe learn something. News digest magazine The Week is excellent for this, I also follow the Spectator and New Statesman blogs, and of the daily newspapers I think The Times has the best standard of writing and broadest range of opinion - some of which I strongly dislike.

Part of the reason I say this is because I know good people who voted for Ukip*. Raised eyebrows always follow my mentioning this, sometimes accompanied by gasps of astonishment. I have to admit that anti-immigration rhetoric gets me more angry than most of the other policies I disagree with across the political spectrum. This is because I wouldn’t exist if this country didn’t let immigrants like my granddad in. He came here to escape, he came without skills, and Britain welcomed him in. That’s greatness. Many people, probably most, have one issue that is especially emotive for them – it’s understandable that this could define their perspective on everything else, and it shouldn’t be surprising that some of these will be different to what matters to you, or even what you believe to be right.

Talking of personal narratives and the power they have, I didn’t see many of the victory speeches on election night but two of them were almost identical. Both successful candidates recalled how they were the first in their family to go to university, and that their educational and career success had grown in them a love for Britain as a nation of opportunity, and caused them to get involved in politics so that others could benefit as they had. The only difference was the conclusion they made from their life stories: one was Labour and one was Conservative. Each saw the same journey as justification of a totally different political perspective.

Are matters more black and white in Scotland? I’m not sure that they are. The SNP are geopolitically blessed in a way that Ukip and the Greens can only dream of, yet voting for them is not exactly the same as wanting (full) independence. Brian Taylor explains:
“People in Scotland have been looking for Scottish champions. They have sought politicians who would evince the Scottish standpoint, who would strengthen the Scottish voice in the UK and global discourse. They have sought politicians who owed their allegiance, primarily if not solely, to Scottish concerns... That demand is inchoate and imprecise - in that it is not pegged directly or solely to a demand for particular devolved powers or a particular economic strategy. It is, nevertheless, powerful and all-consuming. Perhaps all the more potent in that it is wide-ranging, rather than narrowly driven. It is an aggregate feeling of remoteness from the concerns of a metropolitan elite, a feeling of physical and cultural distance from the Westminster centre of UK political life. A shout of anger, a yell of anguish, a demand to be heard.”
The nationalists have been in a great situation for a while: devolution has allowed them to claim that any success Scotland experiences is due to them being in government here, and any failures are the fault of Westminster. Heads “we” win, tails “they” lose. It will be interesting to see whether the new UK Government gives it enough financial rope to hang itself. If this were to happen, the charismatic Ruth Davidson could make the Conservatives the party of opposition. Weirder things have happened, although not many.

My mother-in-law has encouraged us that we may be able to take the title of “foreign missionaries” soon. Apart from that, how do I respond as a follower of Jesus to everything that’s going on? I’m content that Jesus is ultimately in charge, a situation that isn’t affected by who currently occupies 10 Downing Street or Bute House. Political paranoia seems unbecoming for people who have assurances as great as ours, however serious the present difficulties.

What should matter to a Christian voter? One organisation will tell you how your MP voted on "moral" issues that have been debated in parliament, but not on issues of justice and welfare, which even a cursory glance at the Old Testament will show matter a great deal to God. Thankfully, many churches have responded with great compassion and help for those in deep trouble, from establishing foodbanks and debt advice centres to taking on loan sharks and even the government. There will probably more pain ahead, and "the poor you will always have with you", so each of us should look to do what we can to help others. This is far better than posturing, as Libby Purves scathingly points out:
“The most savage, bilious, self-righteous rants are from people living affluent self-pleasing lives in comfortable homes, doing lucky and rewarding jobs with like-minded friends. What they are doing (I risk losing a friend or two) is ‘virtue-signalling’: competing to seem compassionate. Few are notably open-handed: St Matthew would need a rewrite of Chapter 19. ‘Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. So he went on Twitter instead and called Michael Gove a ‘vile reptilian evil tory scumbag’, and linked to a cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith stealing a paralysed woman’s wheelchair. And lo, he felt better and went for a £3.50 caramel macchiato with some mates from the BBC.’”
Talking of Matthew 19, the Bible verses that spring quickest to my mind are the same that did last week:
“You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) 
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:8-9)
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) 
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement... Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:1-8)
That last one sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It sounds even crazier when you know that Paul was referring to the Emperor Nero, whose crimes against Christians were many and horrible, and when you consider how much trouble Paul’s declaration that Jesus was Lord had got him in. King’s Church Eastbourne are currently doing a teaching series called Citizens and the first talk deals with this passage more comprehensively than I can here. Just one thing, though: it's funny how we think it's hard to be subject to rulers (verse 1) and easy to love everyone (verse 8). As always for Paul, real love must triumph. No government can stop me living this way, nor can any fellow voter’s preference.


* Ukip, not UKIP, say the newspaper style guides.

This week: wisdom on voting, social media, gap years, and storing photos


We went to a wild wild west birthday party.

How do you vote when "None of the above" seems like the most honest option? Andrew Wilson has a sensible suggestion.

One of my favourite bloggers and tweeters is Ray Ortlund so I'd suggest that his perspective on speaking online is worth listening to (although the Unsubscribe function on Facebook undermines his first point somewhat).

Writing in 1905, G.K. Chesterton has an excellent challenge for people considering gap years.

If you think that children are worthy of love and respect, you've possibly got Christianity to thank for that, claims Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

If you've got lots of digital photos you might want some advice on where to store them. Casey Newton gives the low-down on the best contenders.

The secrets behind many movie sound effects are revealed by Owen Williams.

No to Notifications


Do you really want to be a slave of something which is supposed to be a tool for you to use? Notifications on your phone distract you from what’s happening in front of you (which might be important, or personal, or possibly really boring and therefore a chance to think), and they feed an unhealthy desire to seek attention from others.

Distraction isn’t a modern disease, in 1640 John Donne confessed that he neglected more important matters “for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door.” Feeding off the attention of others isn’t new either. We’ve just got more technology that encourages both of those unhelpful habits now.

More people are realising this, which is why I’ve got several good articles to recommend to convince you. Some friends of mine have got rid of their smartphones altogether to escape from all of this but I like how smoothly my iPhone works, and its camera, and the convenience of internet access and GPS when I need it, so I didn’t go that far but I did significantly alter how I interact with my phone. I deleted the apps for Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Flipboard, hid Instagram away in a folder (because I can’t use it elsewhere), and have tried to keep my phone away from my hand more often. Sometimes I get phone calls or texts. All other interruptions are by my choice. I use Pocket to read articles that I’ve saved elsewhere, and Simplenote to process my thoughts in writing*. Hopefully I'll pick up books more often. I'm still very distractible but I think my ability to focus on the tasks and people in front of me is slowly improving, and that whatever it is that gives us a tremor of minor elation when we're notified about someone online paying us attention is getting the beating it deserves.

Here’s who helped me:
  • Matt Simmonds was the first person whose thoughts on this I read, as he got to work on removing habitual time-wasters from his life.
  • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is blunt: “Literally no one is going to die if you wait five freaking minutes to check your text messages and your Twitter replies.”
  • Julian Baggini is concerned that the Apple Watch is the next stage in reducing our conception of ourselves to machines.
  • Andy Crouch writes wisely, beautifully and at length about a full-on fast from screens. “I was more free to pay attention to the world I am called to love.”
* I've written a list of four helpful productivity apps that aren't distracting.

This week: Bible contradictions, relationship wisdom, food packaging, sports commentating, volcano erupting


Deb didn't buy any of these shoes. Nor did I.

Does the Bible contradict itself? Preston Sprinkle makes a case for clarity and charity.

Russell Moore brings vital wisdom and perspective to the debate about religious freedom.

If you're in a relationship but not yet married, you should read the advice of Jared C. Wilson. (By the way, is it only Christian writers who involve their initials so much?)

Did the 1960s change the western world? David Brooks thinks the real shift happened twenty years earlier.

The stupid way that our food packaging tries to talk to us is given a blast of Steven Poole's righteous anger.

The late Richie Benaud had eight rules that shaped his sports commentary. Read them and weep for how ignored they are by almost everyone in the business he mastered.

Finally, this volcano erupting is all that an erupting volcano should be...

This week: identity, shepherds, rich people, reading music


Here's London looking moody and murky.

How does God see you if you are a Christian? Mark Galli illustrates this wonderful truth beautifully.

It's a brave man who suggests that the richest 1% are doing the rest of the country good, and Fraser Nelson is that man, armed with stats that say the wealthiest have never contributed more to the public purse.

The life of a Twenty-First Century shepherd is investigated by Caroline Crampton.

The value of reading things that seem to be irrelevant your interests or studies is praised by Wesley Hill.

I rather like Colours In The Dark by Tongues:


Crossway have redesigned their excellent Bible app, which now includes for free all the resources of the ESV Global Study Bible...