Profitable Little Paperbacks Pt.1

27 04 2007

At the moment I’m running a poll on this site in an effort to determine what kinds of books bless people the most. After a flurry of reponses (three so far!) ‘Christian biography’, ‘Biblical Theology’ and ‘Devotional’ are neck and neck. If you haven’t done so yet, please humour me by casting your vote!

Personally I find a wide variety of books to be helpful. From the knee breaking hardbacks which usually centre around Systematic Theology, to the lightest of booklets, there is normally something helpful to be gleaned.

Recently I’ve been ploughing through some short paperbacks, and thought that it might make an interesting little series to cover some of the things which I am learning from them. The beauty of paperbacks is that you can read a wide variety of views/opinions without having to get too bogged down, or make too much of a long term commmitment to one volume.

Last week I read Jeanette Lukasse’s little book ‘A Cry from the Streets’, which records how she and her husband Johan felt the call of God to work for Him amongst the street children of Brazil. After a round-about route to the field, they eventually came to settle in the city of Belo Horizonte, where they have been used to establish rescue centres, residential homes, and adoption services. Their work is practical, gospel-oriented, and enormously courageous.

Lukasse writes with a plainness and honesty of style which is refreshing. From the pages of her book there comes a portrait of a man and woman on fire for God, who were willing to lay all on the line to make His love known to some of the most needy people in the world. Her account doesn’t flinch from portraying some of the trials and disappointments they have faced, along with the victories and blessings of being used of the Lord.

One reservation I would harbour with regard to her narrative is the absence of ‘biblical’ guidance. She and her husband relied mostly on impressions that Lord gave to them on certain issues of their call, and repeatedly she writes of hearing God’s voice, with no mention of what He had said through Scripture (for a refreshing perspective on this see ‘John Piper Hears the Actual Voice of God’). This is a blindspot in an otherwise deeply enriching book.

We have recommended this little paperback to members of the Mexico 07 Team, and would do likewise for anyone with a desire to understand more of what God is doing among those who count for little in the world’s eyes.


Of Victims and Perpetrators

19 04 2007

Every once in a while a news item arises which arrests our attention, and stirs our emotions at a profound level. Even in our media saturated, war worn world – where death tolls are invested with the same emotional empathy as sports scores – some events chill us by their barbarity and horror.

The murder of thirty two students in Virginia Tech, along with the suicide of perpetrator Cho Seung-hui, is one such story. As is normal, the original shock was followed by questions of blame and accountability, with fingers pointed at university authorities and their approach to security and ‘lock-downs’. This morning such considerations have themselves been eclipsed by the broadcasting by NBC of video tape footage of Cho’s own explanation of the outrage.

All of this raises very interesting and powerful questions concerning the nature of victimhood and responsibility within our society. Today’s lunchtime news sounded like a multi-layered exercise in passing the buck. Staff and students pointed a finger at poor security measures, Cho himself blamed the ‘posh brats’ whom he was to murder for bringing their deaths and his own to pass, those close to the bereaved questioned NBC’s morals in making the footage public, anti-gun lobbies blamed the constitutional right to bear arms, and specialists blamed mental illness and sociopathic tendencies.

With such a complex blame game in progress it is easy to lose sight of the issue which everyone is avoiding – the true nature of humanity. An ITV reporter actually stated in her bulletin that it is not a mere matter of viewing this mass murderer as simply ‘evil’. Apparently things are much more complex than that. We are keen to believe such things, entrusting our moral sensibilities to our most modern day witch doctors (the much celebrated and omniscient media psychologists) so that we don’t have to reflect on what we have in common with Cho. The truth as Scripture states it is much easier to believe. We are evil, we are sinful, we are utterly depraved – there is no escape from that. We can shift our focus to the most exaggerated and indulged evil behaviours (such as Cho, or Baghdad bombers for that matter) in an effort to detract from our own wrongdoing, but ultimately in our hearts we know that we are terminally compromised in moral terms.

The reason why the media struggles so much with these issues, the reason for such intensity of explanation of Virginia Tech, rests with the fact that Cho’s actions bursts their delusional bubble of a Coca-Cola ad world of improving humanity and joyous virtue. Our world is woefully wrong, hopelessly lost, inveterately godless.

The grotesque irony of this blood-soaked episode is that Cho lisped the one name which ought to resolve our concepts of victim and perpetrator: Jesus Christ. In the seared moral world of Cho’s mind, Jesus had become a model for his own death, which he hoped would inspire others. The truth is, of course, so different. If we truly understand the cross and the atonement, we quickly realise that Christ was the true innocent who bore the final brunt of mankind’s fall in Adam. He (to use a fairly inappropriate term) became the ‘victim’ of our fallenness and moral degradation. He was wounded ‘for our transgressions’, the ‘just for the unjust’ so that we might be reconciled to God. Such is God’s love for us as sinners.

There are all kinds of tragedies being played out in the wake of Virginia Tech. The tragedy of families brutally bereft of young people whose lives seemed so fresh and latent just days ago; the tragedy of an America so littered with firearms that deadly wish fulfilment is made easy for individuals like Cho; the tragedy of a morally vapid media with no answers about our most basic behaviours. But the greatest tragedy is that like Columbine and 9/11 this event will pass, and having looked into the eyes of a media glorified mass murderer we will turn away, not seeing our own life reflected there, and not feeling the shadow of guilt which this casts upon us all.

Terminating Abortion

17 04 2007

When it comes to newspapers, I enjoy 360 degree reading – sometimes I’ll buy The Times, on other days The Guardian, or if I’m in particularly bleak mood, The Independent. My favourite of these, however, is The Times. The paper is no friend of Christianity, with many of their articles and editorials betraying an anti-faith mentality. Libby Purves is often at the spearhead of this movement. What a surprise today, then, to read her thought provoking article on abortion.

Purves is commenting on the growing trend among doctors to opt out of performing the termination of babies in the womb (my phrase not Purves’). Purves surveys the current analysis of why doctors are refusing to perform terminations (mostly citing shorter junior doctor hours, and the lack of social acceptance of abortionists) but ultimately ditches them in favour of moral factors. She states of modern physicians:

‘They know that the spirit of the 1967 Act is light years away from the 2007 practice: they know that without ever having debated or voted on it, we effectively have abortion on demand. And they know that this is the dodgy result of four decades of nods, winks, strident campaigning and secular consensus. And as the abortions increase and the stigma apparently fades, at the same time those emotive pictures from the womb get better and better…’

Her final analysis is compelling, if a little morally dubious around the edges:

‘We did this to ourselves with our worship of sexual impetuosity, our cowardly right on attitudes to anything involving women, and our dubious backdoor introduction of casual, lifestyle abortion. We did this to avoid one misery, and brought on another.’

How we ought to pray that more and more doctors will find their conscience on this issue. In the year when Wilberforce’s social courage underpinned by evangelical conviction is celebrated, shouldn’t we be praying and striving to give a voice to the voiceless of our own generation – the 190,000 unborn babies who are murdered every year.

Purves’ article can be read in its entirety here.

The Subtext in the Subtitles

17 04 2007

I find myself among those who like to use subtitles, even though I have no hearing impairment problems. I find it relaxing to read dialogue and information, and it helps me to comprehend those shows in which actors tend to mumble with Brando-like chic instead of pronouncing their lines.

One trend which I’ve noticed recently in Channel 4 subtitles has been their transcribing of ‘God’s’ name. In what looks like a tip of the cap to political correctness, the Teletext subtitles for most of their programmes write the Lord’s name as ‘god’ rather than using a capital letter. Channel 4 have always been a broadcaster with a ‘declared hand’ in terms of morals and politics, but it is clear that a definite decision has been made with regard to how God is written. Even in a context where an individual clearly believes in God themselves, the small ‘g’ is utilised. What a shame that the most unhelpful aspects of so-called tolereance have led to the relegation of God’s name in written form.

Men for Ministry Audio Resources

3 04 2007

Audio files of the Men for Ministry Spring conference – hosted on 3rd March 2007 at The Baptist Centre, Moira – are available over at Men for Ministry (the other blog I help to run). The messages are given by Pastor Robert Murdock (Emmanuel Baptist, Lisburn) and Pastor David McMillan (Windsor Baptist, Belfast) on ‘The Primacy of Preaching’, and ‘The Passion for Preaching’, respectively. The event was well attended and deeply appreciated by all who came along. Have a listen and be challenged about the importance and wonder of preaching ministry. Many thanks to JT (you know who you are) for taking such pains to transfer these files from audio cassette into MP3, and then to find a suitable place to make them available online.

The Divided Man of Romans 7

1 04 2007

This morning we will be studying Romans 7:14-25 in our service. This is a hotly disputed passage, with evangelical scholars divided over the identity of the person whom Paul is describing. Some hold this to be an autobiographical account of Paul prior to his conversion, others that it is a typical picture of a Pharisee outside of Christ, and still others that this is Paul the Christian presently describing his everyday spiritual life.

In my message I will take the latter view as my starting point with a comparatively small amount of time devoted to proving my point. For those who would like to think about the issues a little more deeply the following audio and text resources will be very helpful. John Piper took six weeks in his own church (Bethlehem Baptist, Minneapolis) to deal with this issue, and I find his arguments fairly compelling. I trust that they will help you.

Who is this divided man? Pt.1

Who is this divided man? Pt.2

Who is this divided man? Pt.3

Who is this divided man? Pt.4

Who is this divided man? Pt.5

Who is this divided man? Pt.6