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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Bible Saves a Whole Lot of Time

'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
Some years ago I was reading the above titled book by Edward Gibbon because someone made a "this is one of those books you must read before you die" type of exhortation (beware of such claims because they are rarely true). Not far into Gibbon's big fat book of 1100 pages I gave up, totally bored. 

There was nothing new in this book  - I had read it all before (apart from the details). 

But where? 

In Bible books such as first and second Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, that's where. One emperor follows another with much the same intrigue, general wickedness and folly as all-too-many of the equally-wicked kings of Israel. Time and Place are different, but not human nature - whenever it is cloaked in worldly power.

All the important things of life are here
The Bible will save you a lot of time. It is EveryBook in one. You'll read about the full range of human behaviour and experience without having to read all the books of the world.......

       "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." 
                            (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

According to Wikipedia around 2 million books are published every year, according to Google there are around 128 Million unique books in the world. (And these stats don't take into account the vast number of research papers published each year.) Christian, you really don't need to waste your precious time with the 832 pages of the latest "Man Booker Prize" to gain a broad education of the world. Just read more of the Bible. If only Christians would read more of the Bible. (There's every genre of literature in Scripture - from narrative to poetry to unique types such as "apocryphal" and "gospel".)

Twisted Truth made straight
Another advantage of Bible reading is that truth that ought to be plain, but is now twisted by the fall, is straightened by the Word. Example: it is very plain from the physiology of men and women that a man is for a woman and a woman is for a man. It is obvious (to all human cultures in all of time) that a man is not for a man and a woman is not for a woman. It is as plain as can be that man and man or woman and woman is a deviation, a perversion (not least from the medical and psychological consequences of such relationships). But the fall has twisted human nature so that some wish to argue black white. The Scriptures settle the truth about such matters. 

The Word who simply can't be known elsewhere
A third advantage of Bible-reading is this: there we learn things that otherwaise we could not know, in any other way. There are limits to human knowledge since the fall. Living east of Eden man is out of touch with God, in the dark about a whole host of spiritual matters; most of all, how God can be known once more. In creation we read of the majesty of God and even the goodness of God; but only in Scripture do we read of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ his incarnate Word.

Most of us are woefully ignorant of the true treasure we have in our hands every time we open the Bible.

Monday, 7 October 2013

An Outsider's View of Football (Cardiff 1 - NUFC 2)

Father and Sons
Last Saturday I spent a happy day in Cardiff with two of my sons who both support Newcastle United. Due to a seating mix-up I found myself sitting alone with the Toon Army. Here goes the reflections of a football outsider.....

Question #1: Who shall I support? The first decision I had to make on the way in the car was who would I support, if anyone. My sons thought this was a ludicrous question: everyone goes to a football match prejudiced one way or the other. But why can't one watch football and enjoy every good pass and every good goal rather than just half of them? It doubles your enjoyment, saves you from a heart attack and/or  a week's depression. I can see no disadvantages at all in being an Every Team supporter. Perhaps the idea will catch on.

Question #2: Why can't I sit down and watch in peace?
These days you pay good money to watch a match sitting down - that's what those plastic horizontal knee high things are for, sitting on: they are not there merely as markers of your row position. I remember watching Wolves at the Molineux standing up in the 70s, sometimes pressed against  metal bars that ran parallel to the pitch, but then you only paid a few quid because you were standing. But could I sit down last Saturday? Not for one single blessed minute of the whole match. Why? Because these ridiculously hyper fans were standing up in front of me the whole time. I tell you of all the things last Saturday, this was by far the most annoying - standing up for 90 minutes when you've paid to sit down for 90 minutes.

Question #3: I really feel out of this from the very start: Is there no place for a newby?
It looks as though you cannot go to a football match these days unless you are a 200% one-team supporter. There was simply no place for a new guy like me to start slow and learn the ropes. I felt completely out of it from the first moment, and no-one around me cared or helped. With all this enthusiasm around me, although I was supporting Cardiff and Newcastle, I decided I'd better at least pretend I was supporting Newcastle lest the radicals read my lack of enthusiasm as secret support for the enemy. So I clapped outwardly when Newcastle did good stuff, and inwardly when Cardiff did good stuff. (Isn't it good that the movements of the heart cannot be seen by men?) But my point is, there was no room for learning. You have to be 200% from the start. But what about the people who just aren't wired to leave the blocks like Usain Bolt?

Problem #4: I wouldn't have enough brain cells to hold the Toon Army Repertoire
The most striking feature of the whole match was the unbelievable repertoire of the Toon Army. In an age where we dumb-down on memorisation because the kids won't be able to take it in, I heard 90 minutes of memorised (no-one was using a hymn book or even a toon-book) lyrics. Song after song poured forth, and with few momentary exceptions there was no hesitation, deviation or repetition.

I am told that I should be glad my hearing is somewhat diminished at the age of 53.....

Question #5: Why don't blokes sing that loud in church?
These guys (by far the greatest majority were blokes) are no Elton John's but they can belt it out. One bloke in particular was singing with a ecstatic red-faced gusto I thought he was almost in a trance and about to pass out. No joke. But why don't blokes sing the praises of God like that? You just can't blame the musicians, these guys did it without any musical aids.

Question #6: Can hands really be that expressive?
Like at Sunday School, every Toon song had its own hand actions. In one, the fans were climbing an imaginary rope, hand by hand, but really fast. In others the hands were outstretched at different angles, sometimes with a fist clenched, at other times fingers separated, at other times a single finger pointing, and many more variations on the theme. The action that I found most amusing was the reverse-honour wave. When they wanted to worship one of their own players they lifted up their hands and brought them down in a kind of bowing action. When their enemies made a mistake, they repeated the same action, but with their fingers jiggling up and down as if they were just pretending to honour them.

Question #7: Where did these guys get their tunes from?
Although I sometimes thought I was in a madhouse (not PC, but the truth, and that's what matters), at other times at a zoo and still other moments at a Benny Hinn revival meeting, I  liked the broad taste of music which ranged from the Beatles to the Kindergarten: there was music to suit all tastes, I'll give them that.

In spite of these issues I enjoyed the football (all the football), but mainly because my two boys were with me.

Any church lessons?
The enthusiasm did not spread to me, in fact it was off-putting because it left me out. Charismatics who think the unconverted will be converted by contortions are sadly mistaken. All the unconverted think is that we are as mad as the media make us out to be. And more importantly, love doesn't put people out in the cold. Love is sensitive to the newcomer, loves is not rude, it does not embarrass.

Any spiritual lessons?
I could not help but come away with a sense that I had been involved in a worship service of a kind. To be sure, some of these fans at least were in worship mode. They lived for NUFC, loved NUFC, longed for NUFC, praised NUFC and couldn't get enough of NUFC. After each of the two goals they erupted into a frenzied dance, and every time their god let them down, they sank into unspeakable misery (Me? I was happy the whole time.) 

Our hearts are idol factories, since made by God and for God we must worship something/one, and football for sure is a possible idol, among many others. One great tragedy of worshipping idols rather than God is that idols can't help in the day of trouble. Jeremiah put it in this colouful language:
                                                           "Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, 
                                                 their idols cannot speak; they must be carried 
                                                                                  because they cannot walk. 
                                                  Do not fear them; they can do no harm 
                                                                        nor can they do any good." 
                                                                                  Jeremiah 10:5

                                                 "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, 
                                                    but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." 
                                                                                   Psalm 20:7 
How easily idols can upon us creep, and before we know it, we confuse a created thing that was meant to be no more than a signpost to God, for God himself.

"My dear children" urges John, "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

That requires both the careful and regular weeding of the heart (the negative) and the positive joyful delight in God whose love is better than life and who gives greater joy than the highest joys this world can ever afford (Psalm 63:3, Psalm 4:7).

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Edgy Saints #2 - Bakht Singh of India

250,000 at your Thanksgiving?
Not many people have 250,000 people attending their thanksgiving, but Bakht Singh did in the year 2000. And for good reason. He had brought the Gospel to millions of Indians over his life time as an evangelist and church planter. But what was special about him was that he did it in a uniquely Indian Way.

That made him, in the minds of the church establishment, an edgy saint.

Born in 1903 into a Sikh home he was wired hostile to the Gospel. Tragically most Indians thought the "Christian Gospel" was for the white man or the outcaste, not for the masses. This apathy towards the Gospel had been heightened by the way the imperialistic white man had treated the Indian.

As a young man Bakht Singh travelled to the West and was converted on one of his journeys. Returning to India at the age of 30 he was rejected by his parents for his newfound faith in Christ and so began his life-time's work as an evangelist and then church planter.

Starting in Karachi (then part of India) he went all over India preaching the Gospel, but with a difference....

The Gospel in an Indian Cup
...the difference? In spite of all the good western missionaries did for the Gospel in India, one negative legacy was the refusal to incarnate the Gospel into Indian culture. They brought over and imposed upon the Indian a stack of stuff they thought was Gospel (because they'd grown up with it) but which had nothing to do with the Gospel - it was mere human western tradition.

So they insisted on western hymns sung with western instruments, sitting upon western chairs, in western-looking buildings, with western Bible Colleges, meeting for the classical western duration of 1.00000 hour (not, heresy of heresies, 1.000001 hour), starting of course at the western 11.00am. No wonder many Indians rejected the Gospel - they had to become a westerner before they could become a Christian.

Like Sundar Singh before him, Bakht Singh realised from the Scriptures that you could be an Indian Christian, and needn't become a westerner to become a Christian. Out went the chairs, away went the building, in came the Indian harmonium and drums, out went the 1.00000hour service, in came the x hour service (where x is considerably greater than one), out went western ecclesiology, in came biblical all-body minsitry - and so on.

The effect? "Revivals" I am not sure whether I would call them revivals, I would call them the natural and powerful result of preaching the Gospel incarnately. The Gospel is attractive, the Gospel fits into every culture; the problem with us is that we wrap it up in so many layers of tradition, so its beauty is hidden.

His forerunner, Sundar Singh put it like this:

"Indians do need the water of life, but not in a European cup. They should sit down on the floor of the church: they should take off their shoes instead of their turbans. Indian music should be sung. Long informal addresses should take the place of sermons.." (p.179, Bakht Singh of India)

Whose really got the edges then?
Many westerners - and western-trained easterners - regarded Bakht Singh as an edgy Christian, not least because he hadn't been 'ordained' (Ordained? Where's that in the Bible? Come on?) But he wasn't and edgy saint.  He was the guy going back to the Bible.

The real "Edgies" were the western missionaries who went over to India before doing their homework, before sorting out what was Gospel and what was Tradition. If they had done that, they'd have realized that 3/4 of what they were pushing was English High Tea Tradition - which frankly is far more weird than sitting on the floor, playing a harmonium......