We've been using our church building as a study space for students in the city, with free WiFi and hot drinks. There's a room that's intensely quiet, and another which is more café-style and slightly less efficient for study, it seems.
Want a mashup of 2013's pop? DJ Earworm always delivers the goods. What about 2014? The boys at Sounds Good To Me Too and a bunch of other blogs have made their non-pop recommendations. I liked Iyes and Rhodes.
Some scientists have declared that the virgin birth of Jesus is impossible. Derek Rishmawy is suitably unimpressed.
Could you build a house that looks like something from The Shire for £150? Michael Buck did.
How can a leader change someone's life? Sam OklahomaPK tells his story.
"Hardworking families" is one of the worst phrases in politics, as Ed West points out.
Manchester United Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward wants a Football League B-team. Insert your own joke about the current first team here.
Dave Morris sounds another cry for the preservation of Scotland's wilderness.
The church Deb grew up in has made a Lego nativity.
How many of the Internet Movie Database's top-250 ranked films have you seen? I'm on 82.
As my friend Sam said, it's difficult to know what's more impressive about this goal: the lob, or the fact that Paul Scholes made a clean tackle...
There are a number of strange things about watching the Bible as a TV programme, which we can now do on Saturday nights until Christmas. Without spending too much time thinking about the fact it's being shown on a channel owned by a man who made his fortune from pornography, and the slightly-disturbing contrast between young children talking about what's in the Bible in the sponsorship slot and the bloody violence that follows, what's most strange is seeing stories and characters I've thought about represented in another person's vision. This is always an issue when books are made in films but it seems especially true here for me as a believer in the truth of the Bible.
This isn't a criticism of accuracy. The sparse details of biblical narratives allow us to engage our imaginations with what happened, to consider the gaps and the implications, as well as what's recorded. We can stop and think, dwell on a line or a scene for as long as necessary without having to rush on to the next part of the story before another advert break. A TV programme is unlikely to come close to this and from what I've seen The Bible certainly doesn't. The acting and production are in the classic style of made-for-TV true-life-stories, which is to say they're ok but certainly nothing more than that, and sometimes less. Dubbing British voices removes one layer of separation for viewers here but there's still a lot of cultural distance between British viewers and the original American audience.
It's this which is the great challenge for all Christians: how to tell God's story in a way that those listening will understand. People watching The Bible will see something of that, for which I'm grateful (Premier Christian Media have produced resources to help) and the project was clearly undertaken with care and respect. Maybe that should satisfy me but it doesn't because I don't think I'd recommend this to the kind of sceptical people who live in my city. They're more likely to see this as a fulfilment of the Ned Flanders stereotype. I'd love to see more Christian comedy, drama, documentary on TV, it could be better than this.
To all those who have just come back from the King's Church Edinburgh a Students & 20s Weekend Away,
Having led many great weekends like the one we've just had, I'm aware that the weekend itself being brilliant is only the beginning. As I was thinking about this, I thought about the bonfire we had on Friday night, and the image soon applied itself to what God did to many of us over the weekend: starting or stirring fire in us. The question now the weekend is over is: how do we keep this fire burning, and spreading?
First, don't despair. Going online when I got home reminded me with a shock of the contrast between the wonderful things we'd experienced, and the hopelessness of a world without Jesus. But do you remember how dark and cold it was away from the bonfire, and how little impact that darkness and cold had on the light and the heat of the fire?! Similarly, we don't have to be defined by what's around us when God is at work in us. Here are some ways that He will work in you...
John Piper describes the Word of God as the fuel for the fire of our hearts in relationship with Him (Desiring God, chapter five). You were thrilled this weekend by great teaching of truth. This is what God's word does: “The law of the LORD is perfect, revivIng the soul." (Psalm 19:7) There's plenty more where that came from! The example of George Müller, a Christian hero, is worth following:
"I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord... [He realised that in order to do this, before he should pray or do anything else,] the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into ... communion with the Lord." (The Life of Trust)
This is how I try to start my days: reading a chapter of the Old Testament and a chapter of the New, and seeing what I learn about God and hear from Him from them. I'm adding fresh fuel to the fire, whether it's already roaring or in danger of going out.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out into the lives of Jesus first followers, it looked there was fire on them (Acts 2:3). Whatever the full symbolism of this, it links to the image we're thinking about and it's definitely true that we need the presence of God at work in us to keep us burning and spread the fire (John 14:16-18, Acts 1:8, Romans 8:11). There may be some things that you can do by yourself, but none of us can do this without Him! He loves us to ask Him to give us what only He can give.
Nor can we keep going by ourselves. To reuse the image yet again, a coal or log burning by itself won't last long, and God has designed us to need each other. "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another"(Hebrews 10:24-25). God's people need God's people: you were blessed by them this weekend and you blessed others too - so don't stop now!
Finally - and here I'm giving up using the bonfire metaphor directly because I can't think of a way to make it work anymore (and, ridiculously, I'm writing this at 1.30am) - faith is so important. There was such a sense of His presence as we worshipped, and part of the reason for that is that so many of us expected to meet with Him. This is a cheesy line but there's truth in it: our expectation is His invitation. Don't only expect good things when you're away for a weekend: believe God wherever you are and whatever you're doing. He works in different ways at different times and places, but what He's looking for is faith (Luke 18:8), for His people to expect Him to work in them and through them (Hebrews 11).
I know this is what many of you want, and I also know that most of you are already feeling the cold and the dark. Remember the bonfire, put in to practice some of this advice, and be encouraged as you remember that Jesus's intent is to work with you to keep you burning brightly as He continues to take His unquenchable flame all over the world.
I look forward to seeing the scorch marks in Edinburgh and everywhere else!
(Thanks to Rachel G for this accidentally highly appropriate photo)
If the sun is going to start setting around lunchtime, as it currently is in Edinburgh, then it might as well do an outstanding job of it.
It may be difficult to find a good word to say about Reverand Paul Flowers but, as Gillian Scott notes, it's Jesus who has the last word.
The shared anniversy of the deaths of John Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley is an opportunity for Ross Douthat to consider hope.
It's Bryan Appleyard's turn to ask if Apple has had its day.
Pope Francis I's first "apostolic exhortation", The Joy of The Gospel is rapturously received by James Martin.
It isn't hard for Mehr Tarar to paint a picture of hypocrisy when she describes how the west responds to different Muslim governments.
Jared Lafitte offers ten tips for doing adulthood well.
I never thought of Alex Salmond as looking like Mickey Mouse but now Peter Brookes has shown me otherwise.
Repeat after me, "We are all unique"...
We celebrated Deb's birthday in a very posh restaurant, declining to spend £1,800 on a bottle of wine (or anything else, for that matter).
Marilynne Robinson considers the gift of writing.
The latest "church in danger" headline is dealt with by the calm faith of Archbishop Cranmer. I don't fully agree with his conclusion but he's not entirely wrong, either.
"Some physicists simply feel that the existence of stars and planets and life ought not to require so much ‘luck’"observes Tim Maudlin, ending rather as Prince George once did.
Some of Edinburgh's best places for coffee get rated by Tim Pemberton.
An interview with and introduction to Neil Gaiman, one of Britain's most influential authors, from Laurie Penny.
In the Rugby League World Cup, Fiji and Samoa's player smashed into each other for 80 minutes. Then prayed together.
150 years after Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Daniel Hannen notes its debt to John Wycliffe.
Roll an F16 fighter jet, fire off some flares, take a selfie. All in a moment's work for this guy.
Unionists taking the result of next year's Scottish independence referendum for granted are warned not to by Alex Massie.
And finally, if that wasn't concerning enough, Russell Crowe has got his worried face on...
The BBC is showing its classic serialisation of John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy this week. It may seem slow and anachronistic to many of us but it contains Alec Guinness at his inhabiting best in the central role, and describes a fascinating time in recent history. As I wrote when contrasting the series with the 2012 film,
This is the Britain le Carré writes about, trudging through a slough of post-imperial despond. It is a faded world, barely-lit and frayed at the edges... The blurred shapes of pre-HD TV suggest and depict a fallen England, ashamed and fumbling in the shadows.Starts Tuesday night on BBC4, if that cheery description hasn't put you off.
We stayed here last week: there was a wood-burning stove in it, and the Milky Way outside it.
As the slow decline of Roger Federer continues, Ed Smith explains why he's a sportsman like no other (whilst acknowledging that the monographed jacket was bad).
Is John Lewis the most patient man on Twitter?
The fall of the Berlin Wall was the answer to many people calling on God, so says the BBC.
Martin Luther recounts how he would invite the devil to "kiss my backside".
Facebook isn't cool with the kids, according to Parmy Olson. It still made sales of $2.1bn last quarter, though.
The use of names in the New Testament might not seem particularly interesting and important, but as Peter Williams explains, it is both.
As part of our church's "Introducing Jesus" preaching series, I spoke on "Jesus the Saviour". You can listen to it here.
Jesus saves us from our sins, each other, and ourselves, and if you've ever looked down at someone else for anything, it might be worth a listen for you.
No man is an island,Donne’s poem tells us that we are profoundly connected to each other. What is true for people is true for churches, which is why I’m so glad to be in a church that is part of a family of churches who work together for mutual benefit. Paul emphasises this point to the Corinthians who doubt their need of him:
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.- John Donne
And in this matter I give my judgement: this benefits you...
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit...And it’s not just the Corinthians who benefit: from this living relationship, more life will come:2 Corinthians 8:10, 13-14, 23
But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labours of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence.It would seem best to do all we can to bless others, that we might be blessed too, and from this more will be blessed.2 Corinthians 10:13-16
The walk home from work is getting darker quicker. Scotland will soon be enveloped in night with the sun barely scraping over the horizon.
A more exciting and inspiring selection of photos, courtesy of the RAF.
In Christianity Today, a professor of economics and international studies presents his research into how incredibly effective child sponsorship can be.
Dame Judi Dench describes Christianity as "a strength I can't do without."
If you're looking for a new ethical bank, it seems you could do worse than the Salvation Army.
Russell Brand wrote in the New Statesman about the need for revolution and the pointlessness of voting. He got nicely slapped down by Timothy Stanley and Robert Webb.
The conquest of Judea in the Old Testament is one of the most controversial and misunderstood passages in the Bible. Explanations by Derek Rishmary and Lawson Stone give a more accurate context than you may have heard before.
James Blake won the Mercury Prize this week. His album Overgrown had only sold 28,000 copies before then, so I feel rather ahead of the curve on this one, having been tipped off by Sounds Good To Me Too and bought it months ago. Here's a flavour of its modern British soul...
How Wikipedia describes a commonplace book is basically what Evernote is for me:
...a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interestsI use it especially for storing great quotes and snippets of information, articles from websites and other media that I know I'll want to read or refer to again, notes from talks I've listened to and books I've read, as well as recipes and photography tips. You can tag the notes with whatever descriptions you like, it's fully searchable, and like all these apps it works across different devices so I always have everything with me. It's like a spare brain.
I make notes of thoughts, short-term tasks, and little things like that all the time which means I like to have access to those notes wherever I am and whatever I'm doing. Simplenote makes this happen on my phone, my tablet, and my computers at home and at work. Because I only use it for small stuff, it doesn't take a huge effort to get up and running as Evernote does. It also looks nice. The only minor annoyance is that syncing from my phone when WiFi isn't on can cause bits of notes to disappear. I've decided it's worth that hassle to save the much bigger one of not having access to all my notes all the time.
A good organising app will work in the same way that you think, and Workflowy does that for me. I have lists of things to do, and then lists within those lists of things that I need to do for each different area. I think that way, and this app lets me write it all down, which helps me feel confident that even if I'm not dealing with an issue right now, I won't forget it - so I don't need to think about it now and can concentrate on what I'm doing.
This used to be called "Read it later" which is less catchy but does explain what this app is about. Seen something online that looks interesting but you just can't give it your attention right now? Save it to Pocket and you'll be able to come back to it when you're ready, on a different device if necessary, and it will almost certainly be displayed in a better layout than where you first saw it. It's slightly trickier to set up than some of the other apps but is worth the investment.
If you like football and fonts, you may well like looking at football fonts.
The Verge shows us what adverts on Instagram are going to look like. My guess is that they probably won't all be as refined as the one in the article.
Marilynne Robinson, one of my favourite writers, profiled by The American Conservative as "Christian, Not Conservative." It's got quotes from her so it's worth reading.
There's been an attention-grabbing conference in America accusing the kind of Christianity I believe in of being, basically, against God. Andrew Wilson considered and rebutted the arguments made with typical brilliance.
In America's horrifying past, Solomon Northup's 12 Years A Slave.
And what I haven't been looking at:
Sir Alex Ferguson has called his autobiography My Autobiography which is ridiculous - who else's could it be? I'm not sure why he's written this, perhaps he needed the money and the vindication?
The new Arcade Fire album is now available to watch/listen to, as my friends at Sounds Good To Me Too have pointed out, with mixed feelings. I'll wait for the CD.
Finally, Sputnik Magazine suggests that Luke Sital-Singh is a Christian, in that weird Christian out-ing way we have. His song has been making me smile on 6 Music, even if the video is a bit average...
As part of our church's "Introducing Jesus" preaching series, I spoke on "Jesus the Man". You can listen to it here.
Here are the edited highlights...
What does “baptise with the Holy Spirit” mean?
All four gospels include John the Baptist’s declaration about Jesus, that John baptised with water but Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:29-34).
What is “baptism”? From the Greek word “baptizo” which means to dip / plunge / immerse, for example cloth was dyed by “baptising” it into dye. Carried implication of being overwhelmed: the Greek philosopher Plato used it to describe one of his students who was being outsmarted by those around him. In the Jewish context that John and Jesus lived in, there were purification and conversion rituals that involved immersion into water, a practice John continued (Matthew 3:5-6), and which Jesus and the early church made part of entry into the church (Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:41 etc).
There are several other phrases used in the New Testament that are best understood as meaning the same or similar to “baptise” when used to describe the Holy Spirit’s action: filled, poured out on, received, fell upon…
The Bible’s big story: God with His people
At each stage of history described by the Bible, we see that God’s intention is to be with His people:
- Adam and Eve are put in the garden of Eden to be with God. The disaster of sin is that it separated them (and us) from God, they were cast out of His presence.
- God rescues Israel from Egypt and brings them into the promised land, all the while dwelling with them as pillar of cloud/flame, then in the tent of meeting and later the temple.
- Jesus comes to earth as the presence of God: the new tent/temple, “the Word was God… the Word became flesh and dwelt [literally: camped] among us.” (John 1:14)
- When Jesus returns and all things are made new: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)
Where does that leave us now? The emphasis of the story seemed to be that He was getting closer and closer – but has He left us to ourselves for now? Has the situation got worse for us than it was when Jesus was on the earth?
The Spirit in John and Luke’s writings (highlights)
- John 1:29-34 Jesus will baptise with the Spirit.
- John 7:37-39 The Spirit will be given to all who thirst, after Jesus has been “glorified” (resurrected).
- John 14:16-18, 16:7 Jesus is leaving but staying – and this is better than if He were just staying! He and the Father will send the Spirit to be with Their people.
- Luke 3:16 and Acts 1:4-5 Jesus will baptise with the Spirit, unlike John the Baptist
- Acts 1:8 The Spirit is essential to the mission of God.
- Acts 2:1-4 The age of the Spirit begins! The believers God is with them and have boldness to preach. They understand this as the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise to them, which was itself a promise from the Old Testament (Acts 2:17-18). This was clearly a unique event but the principle keeps repeating…
- Acts 4:31 The same group as received the Spirit in Acts 2 are filled with Him again.
- Acts 8:12-19 New believers in Samaria receive the Spirit’s baptism as a separate event to their conversion and water baptism
- Acts 9:17 Saul was already saved but needs the Spirit’s baptism
- Acts 10:44-46a The Spirit arrives seemingly before they’re saved!
- Acts 11:15-16 When asked to give an account of what happened in Acts 10, Peter makes the connection back to what Jesus said about Himself, and what John the Baptist said about Him too: Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the promised presence of God and power of God with us right now. It’s better that He is here than Jesus because He can meet personally with each of us, all the time. Our closeness with Him is the guarantee of our eternal closeness with God in the age to come (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus brings us into this dynamic relationship, baptising us with the Spirit.
1. The giving of the Spirit in this way was for the time before the church had the Bible.
The mission for God’s people is the same: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), so why isn’t the first half of that verse true for us too: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”?
Some argue that 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 says there’s been an end to the gifts the Spirit gives us but the “perfect” it refers to surely is the return of Jesus rather than the publication of the Bible.
2. Didn’t I get everything I needed when I became a Christian?
The Bible is clear that there is a maturing process for all believers, but is equally clear on the need for us to receive the Spirit’s power too. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it:
“Got it all? Well, if you have ‘got it all’, I simply ask in the Name of God, why are you as you are? If you have ‘got it all’, why are you so unlike the Apostles, why are you so unlike the New Testament Christians?”3. I’m not good enough for God to bless me in this way.
Of course you’re not! Where in the Bible do you see perfect people receiving the Spirit? Peter denied Jesus, Paul killed Christians, others had recently been pagans. There’s no cause for snobbery or inferiority with the Spirit – He is given freely to all who ask.
The Holy Spirit is not a reward for good behaviour, He is what we need to live right. No army commander says to their troops, “Go out and fight, and if you do really well this time, next time I’ll give you guns.”
How to respond
Essentially: ask. Jesus invites those who thirst (John 7:37-39) and promises the Spirit to those who ask/seek/knock (Luke 11:9-13). God’s not cruel: when He invites you to ask for something it’s because He’s going to give it to you. What He’s looking for from us is faith, believing that this is true: your expectation is His invitation. Don’t let your previous experiences define the truth, let God’s truth shape what you expect
Practically, many of us ask with actions as well as words: holding out our hands in a receiving manner. Most but not all New Testament accounts of being filled with the Spirit involve those who have already received laying their hands on those who haven’t. Often in our times of receiving we start by worshipping and welcoming God, and we ourselves are to ask Him to fall on us, as well as inviting others to pray for us.
Looking at those stories in Acts, there’s always the implication that something noticeable happens when people are baptised with the Spirit – Simon the Magician wanted to pay for the ability to do it (Acts 8:19)! Sometimes other people see first: those praying for you or noticing how God has changed you. Two words summarise what we can expect: presence and power. We know God is with us as we experience His love or peace, He fills us with joy in Him. Because we know that He is with us, we become bolder, and we hear His voice. His power brings healing, freedom, and gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in spiritual languages and prophetic words.
Don’t despise small things, that’s a very important Kingdom principle because God often starts small and grows things. This is an entry point into receiving repeatedly (Ephesians 5:18 uses the present continuous tense: go on being filled with the Spirit). The ultimate proof is that you know and love Jesus better.
The BBC’s political correspondent Chris Mason does a nicejob here of explaining how today’s “Jumpergate” story isn’t really a storyat all. Here’s the bit that should drive us mad, the exchange between variousmembers of Her Majesty’s Press and the Prime Minister’s official spokesman:
Reporter: "Does the prime minister wear a jumper athome?"Official Spokesman: "The prime minister doesn't tend togive fashion tips."Several further questions along the same lines came along,which didn't get very far. The spokesman was then asked about what the PMthought of charities giving advice that perhaps people should consider wrappingup warm.Here was the response: "Clearly, he is not going toprescribe necessarily the actions individuals should take about that. But ifpeople are giving that advice, that is something that people may wish toconsider."
Setting aside the fact that wearing a jumper indoors is a perfectly acceptable thing to do (I'm wearing one right now, reader) what you see here is several highly intelligent and influential peopleusing their intelligence and influence to produce/prevent a story about wearing jumpers. Whilstpeople shiver and struggle, whatever they're wearing. A plague on both your well-insulated houses.
Here's what I've been looking at...
The Met Office explaining why you can't trust long-range weather forecasts.
Hedley Twidle on the last days of Nelson Mandela, who lives, as Rob Nixon says, "on the cusp of time, embodying a people’s hope, yet monumentalised on a scale ordinarily reserved for the dead”.
"We are wallowing about, really, in an atemporal zone of cultural production" according to Will Self.
A report in The Spectator claims that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians."
You know the story of how NASA spent millions developing a pen for space whilst the Soviets used pencils? It's not true.
Talking of myths, here's David Mitchell dismantling the "religion makes you evil" one:
All this and more can be found in more digestible form on my Twitter account.