Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lessons from the Painters

I recently read a charming old book that I found in a charity shop. It was Lessons from the Painters, by Lucking Taverner. The book was published in 1913 by the Sunday School Association.

Though the book was published in the Edwardian era, it was very Victorian.

Each chapter presented a moral essay on a well known painting, such as the Angelus or The Golden Stairs. Most of the paintings were from the Victorian era.

Though the book was written with sunday school lessons in mind, the Christianity of the book is a kind of universalised moral Christianity. An High Anglican, an Evangelical Methodist or a Quaker in the Victorian era could all nod in agreement with the lessons. Even an atheist or an agnostic could find little in the book to disagree with. There is nothing of the deity of our Lord, or His substitutionary death or resurrection. Instead, the book exalts the virutes of hard work, charity, patriotism and obediance to parents.

It is often thought by many Christian today that the Britain of a century ago was far more Christian than our Britain. In many ways, Victorian and Edwardian Britain were more Christian. There was more church attendance, more profession of the faith and great knowledge of the Bible amongst the public. However, much of the religion of that era was just a form of religious moralism. A religion of good works, stiff upper lip and self righteousness. There was in most denominations an enormous drift toward infidelity and an abandonment of fundamental doctrine.

It was fascinating for me to read this work of a bygone era, so alien in its outlook and yet so lacking in its perception of the real needs of its own age.

Should the USA overthrow democratically elected governments?

The short answer is 'what you gonna do about it if they do?'

In country A there is an election. The majority vote for a party that is hostile to American interests. Not only do they intend to cut economic ties with America, but they are allied to a hostile power and also to insurgent groups in neighbouring countries.

Maybe this is in the days of the Cold War, with the menace of Communism. Perhaps the victorious party have the KGB behind them? Or maybe this is the Twenty-First century. Perhaps the victorious party is allied to an Islamic rogue state like Iran. Perhaps the victorious party are supporters of Islamic terrorists.

In country A, there are a group of army officers who are sympathetic to the United States and opposed to the victorious party. They want to launch a coup and overthrow the new government, establishing a military dictatorship. Would it be right for the CIA to provide assistance to these plotters?


I say yes. This is what the United States did in South America in the Cold War and this is what they must be prepared to do in the climate of today.

When it comes to foreign policy there are ultimately no principles to play by. There are international laws and there are consequences for violating them, but ultimately, if it is in a country's interest to act unilaterally it must do so.

It is dangerous to base foreign policy on abstract principles such as democracy and Human Rights. The reason being that other countries are unlikely to act according to such principles. If the US plays fair, she cannot expect Russia, China or Iran to play fair. These countries will not act according to democratic principles, but they will ride roughshod over them. They will act in their own interest. And the USA must act in her interest. The world will not be safe for democracy unless the world is safe for America.

Democracy is not always desirable. Electorates are fickle and they will vote for parties who are not democractic in spirit. They will vote for parties whose interests are opposed to peace and a stable world order.

A military regime would probably not have much respect for Human Rights. But then an electorate could vote for a party that has little regard for Human Rights. Making Human Rights central to foreign policy would be to restrict a nation to unworkeable principles.

So, yes, if need be, the USA can and should overthrow democratically elected governments and none may say unto them 'What doest thou?'

A theologian should be a man of refinement and culture

How can a man possibly be sound in his theology if he hates opera, has never read Virgil's Aeneid, does not know Raphael from Rembradnt and cannot enjoy a glass of cognac?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fantasy Illustration

I do love the religious illustrations of Gustave Dore and William Blake. They had such a wonderful imagination.

Would'nt it have been wonderful if Blake and Dore had been alive in the Twentieth Century and produced illustrations of Lord of the Rings?

I do hope this does not offend anyone

I really do get frustrated with bloggers who do not reply to all comments on their blogs.

Maybe it seems a lot to ask to reply to every comment, but I really do think it is polite to do so. When I write comments and receive no reply, I rather wonder whether my comments are really welcomed.

I know we are all busy, but it does make me feel good when people write "Thankyou for your comment" or "That is really interesting." It is just a small thing, but it makes a difference.

I do apologise to anybody whose comments I have ignored before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Times: If Britain’s going to the dogs, I’m a Greek banana

Times: If Britain’s going to the dogs, I’m a Greek banana

Article by David Aaronovitch

Like the author of this article, I do ger weary of Right-wing people constantly making out that modern Britain is a really awful place.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Question for Readers: Art

Who is your favorite painter?

Okay, maybe some of you do not have a favorite painter. That is fine. Don't blag and say Vincent Van Gogh just because you cannot think of anybody else. Borrow an art history book from the library. Or find a good art website. Look at the paintings. Think to yourself, 'What do I like about this?' or 'What pictures grab my attenttion?' Then come back and tell me what you liked most.

Thanks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Times: Chindamo stays – and I’m proud of it

Times: Chindamo stays – and I’m proud of it

'The verdict on this man is a mark of civilised society'

Article by Alice Miles

This is a really bold article. It has become incredibly fashionable to make bitter attacks on Human Rights. At a risk of being called a 'politically correct' liberal, I will side with Alice Miles.

Sometimes the law seems unfair, but the point of Human Rights is to give legal protection to all; even those who do not deserve it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Visiting my sister

I visited my sister in Poole near Bournemouth this weekend.

It is about a three-hour drive, which is the longest I have driven. I know that to Yanks and Canadians a three-hour drive is incredibly puny, but to an Englishman like me, it is a long way.

As I had expected we had lots of food and drank lots of beer. The latter being a good thing, as the Worceser Beer Festival that would have taken place this week was cancelled. We had an Indian take-away on Friday night, we went for a pub meal on Saturday night and we enjoyed bacon sandwiches for lunch on Sunday.

The weather was pretty awful, lots of rain and wind. However, we had a nice trip to Salisbuy.

I was so pleased to visit Salisbury Cathedral. I was really hoping I would get to see another medieval chuch; I just love visting medieval churches. It was the most beautiful cathedral I had seen in a long time. I was especially delighted to see a stained glass window based on Angeli Laudates, a design by one of my favorite painters, Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

Monday, August 13, 2007

TES: Call for compulsory after-school activity

TES: Call for compulsory after-school activity

This is absurd. Schools are about education, not micromanaging society. When measures like this are suggested, one wonders whether they would rather children were take away from their parents and kept in 24/7 schools.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Open Home Policy

Some Christian families have an open home policy. That is, they allow anybody to come and visit their house at any (reasonable) time.

Do you know people who do that? Have you ever considered making your house available in that way?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Preaching on James 3:1-10

I preached this evening at Kidderminster Evangelical church, a small congregation in another town. I preached a Gospel sermon on James 3:1-10. It went very well. One of the elders from my church lead the service.

You can read my sermon below (sorry about the NIV quotations):

The letter of James is one of the most practical in the New Testament. It is a letter written to Christians to show them how to live in this world and how to overcome the world.

The great theme of James is overcoming the world. The world is presented in James as being a destructive and dangerous place. You only need to read the newspaper to find out that the world is pretty rotten place. The news that we hear should tell us that there is something very wrong with the world. The world or the cosmos is presented in the Bible as a system, a system that is opposed to God and which rejects him. The Bible tells us that Satan is the god of this world. All of the organization and religion and philosophy of this world is arranged to make man feel that he does not need God and can live without Him. Thus, the world or society is an evil place that is corrosive and destructive. A person can only be freed from the destructive hold of Satan’s kingdom when they have found deliverance; and that is only through the Lord Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world.

This chapter begins with a warning to believers:

1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

This is a warning to me tonight. When somebody preaches the Word of God, they are under a responsibility for what they say. If I say something tonight that is not true or which is unhelpful, I am accountable to God for it.

Most of you have your Bibles open right now. That is good. When somebody is teaching the Bible it is so important to check what they say.

Why? Because there is only one Gospel. There is only one message that can save, only one message that can provide eternal life. The apostle Paul says that even if an angel were to preach a different Gospel to the one he preached, we should reject it. If angel came in here tonight, it would be pretty amazing, would’nt it? But if that angel preached a different Gospel to the one that we find in Paul’s epistles, we would have to tell him to fly off somewhere else.

There are a lot of people teaching the Bible today or claiming to do so. But not all of them preach the truth. In a lot of churches, a lot of the people who come to your door with the Bible in their hands, there is a different message. Usually that message is that man has to do something to save himself. That we can come to God by keeping rules or commandments or changing our behaviour. That is not the Gospel. The true Gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ has done everything that is necessary to give us eternal life. To receive it we need only believe in Him. That is the good news.

2We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

None of us are perfect. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When we read the Bible we read about fallen men and women. All of the great heroes of the Bible had failings and those failings are recorded in the Scriptures. In fact, that is one of the evidences that the Bible is indeed true, that it consistently glorifies God and it does not glorify man. If the Bible was the work of men, then it would glorify some of the heroes in its pages, but it most certainly does not do that.

And as we shall see in this passage, that one of the signs of our failings is in how we use our tongues.

James shows us that there is great power in the tongue. He compares it to the rudder of a ship, just a small component, but it has the power to drive the ship in the direction that the pilot wants it to go.

And being able to speak gives us great power. We forget how often we communicate with our mouths, making ourselves understood, making other see what we want and need. When people lose the power to speak through injury they often find it disorientating and humiliating to lose that power .

5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

It is amazing some of the things that people will boast. Some people can really tell some tall tales.

But some of the things that people have boasted can really have an impact.

When John Lennon boasted that the Beatles were ‘bigger than Jesus’, he was being flippant and thought he was being funny. But it had a huge impact on how people perceived him and his band. He ended up looking rather silly.

James also compares the tongue to a spark that can cause a huge blaze. In the dry weather of places like Australia or the USA, a small spark can cause massive forest fires, causing destruction over acres of land. Even in this country, you can get fires occurring in the dry weather, started by just small sparks. Even magnifying glass on a hot day can trap enough of the sun’s rays to create a small spark that can light fires.

Likewise an idle word can cause hurt and grief to people. Friendships can be ruined by careless talk.

In the war there were posters that said that ‘careless talk costs lives.’ And it is true.

But sometimes the tongue can be deliberately used to cause harm.

You may have seen or read Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’ In it, Mark Anthony gives his famous speech ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen.’ The speech is so carefully crafted that it enflames the passions of the men of Rome and an orgy of rioting and violence is unleashed.

The tongue has great power.

7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

What a thought! Humanity has achieved so many things, we have domesticated animals, we can produce enormous yields from the earth, we design all kinds of machinery, but how many of us can say with honesty that we are self-controlled in how we use our mouths?

Some of you might recently have watched the Alastair Campbell diaries. Alastair Campbell was one very clever chap, a man who was able to influence others and to present information in such a way as to shape public opinion. It is very doubtful that the Blair government would have had the success they had without his talent. Yet this man, for all his skill, and his intelligence and his ability to influence others was quite unable to mind his language and said some quite awful words.

Perhaps you might say it is a small fault, but it is a very revealing one.

If somebody were to tape record everything that I said in a week and then played it back, I would be very embarrassed. So much of what I say is silly, flippant and unnecessary.

I am sure most of you can identify with that.

I would suggest that most people probably talk too much. People babble so often about all sorts of things. It seems that many people are afraid of silence. You can see that in the constant range of new gadgets that are brought out year after year, IPods, mobile phones, IPhones. All designed to constantly comfort people with the noises of the Twenty-first century. People do not like silence. I am the same. So often I need to put music on.

And when people are together they have to talk and talk. There is no room for silence. Silence forces us to face ourselves, to reflect on who we are what we have done and where we are going.

Yet a day will come when there is silence. For it says in the book of Revelation chapter 8, verse 1 , that when the seventh seal is opened when God’s judgment is revealed upon the earth, there will be silence in heaven for half an hour. The eternal songs of angels shall be silenced at such an awesome day.

9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.

James takes us back to creation. We are created in the image of God; we have been created to have a relationship with Him. Thus, our tongues are made to praise God and to give Him worship. Nevertheless, we use our tongues to curse and abuse others, who are also made in the likeness of God. In this we show how far we are fallen from what God intended us to be.

We have a sin problem. The reason we say things that we should not say is that we have a nature that is sinful and hostile to God and his ways. In the next chapter, in verse 1, James says:

1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?

You can try to be self controlled, but unless God performed that miracle of granting you a new nature, your success will be limited.

Nevertheless, we are responsible to God for our use of the tongue. James says here that ‘this should not be.’ God did not intend us to curse our fellow men.

In the final chapter of this letter, James warns us that ‘the judge is standing at the door.’ The Lord Jesus Christ tells us in Matthew 12:36:

36But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

Can we stand before God with confidence, knowing all of the things we have spoken? Do we have a truly clean conscience?

We have a sin problem that needs to be dealt with. The only way is through the Saviour that God has sent. That is through Christ. Only in Him can we find the answer to our guilty conscience.

When we look at the life of Jesus and compare it to our own, we find that we are deeply wanting. Jesus Christ was self-controlled in his speech and in His conduct. He never spoke a word of falsehood or malice. His life was perfect, that He might be a perfect sacrifice unto God.

Jesus Christ was mocked and called every vile name, yet He patiently bore it and suffered that abuse. He did that in order to secure for us forgiveness for sins.

On the cross, Christ was punished for our swearing, our abuse, our unkindness, our lying. He took the full penalty for those sins upon Himself.

One of Jesus’ disciples said of Him ‘Lord, you have the words of eternal life.’

Indeed he did. For our Lord promised that:

‘Whosoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’

If you place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He can give you eternal life. Eternal acceptance with God.

We have sinned against God by our words and by our actions, and Jesus is that very God we have sinned against, but He is Himself the answer to our dilemma. If we believe His promise of eternal life, we can have full confidence of peace with God.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

NIV-Onlyism

I am preparing a sermon I am going to preach this Lord's Day at another church.

Like mine, preaching is always from the NIV, so I am having to work from that.

I actually do not own an NIV, so I am having to borrow my parents' copy.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Times: Does Mr Brown know what he’s doing?

Times: Does Mr Brown know what he’s doing?

Article by Alice Miles

We were impressed

My parents and I went to a pub yesterday evening.

A group of young men came into this pub, one of whom was bare-chested. The barmaid told this man that she would not serve him until he put his shirt on.

We congratulated the lady on standing up to such loutishness. It is appalling that some men think they can come into a respectable establishment showing their fat bellies. Quite dreadful.