Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I've been reading Judges in my quiet times recently. A book, like Joshua i'd not read before, and, in the same way as when i read Joshua, it's good to be reading new parts of the Bible, to be persuing sixty-six book Christianity. Judges is probably a good place to start for people who don't think the Old Testament is relevant, or that it has nothing to say to us today. I think Judges has plenty to say.

The time of the Judges was not a great time in Israel's history, in fact, pre exile it's probably as bad as it gets. The book starts with the death of Joshua and goes downhill from there. It moves in cycles...God's people rebel, God uses foriegn kings to subdue them, God's people cry out for help, God provides a savior figure. A Judge, people like Gideon and Samson to redeem God's people and lead them back to Him. Typically as soon as that Judge dies the people return to their sinful ways, coporatly and personally. This is a salutory tale for our times, as it show the utter chaos and anarchy in society when syncretism and superstition worship of the Living God.

What i read yesterday and today, chapters 17 and 18 reflect that i think. The story goes like this. In Chapter 16, Micah steals 1100 pieces of silver from his mother, his mother invokes a curse on the unknown thief and Micah returns the money. Not, you'll note out of a feeling of guilt for stealing from his mother, but simply because he did not want to be cursed. Micah's mother then consecrates all the money to the LORD, but also gives 200 pieces of silver to a silversmith to make a carved idol. Not great so far then. Micah takes this man made 'god' and sets up a shrine to it in his house, complete with ephod and priest, his son whom he ordained.

The story then starts to get even worse, as we see the extent to which God's people are turning their back on Him. Micah comes across a Levite and asks him to be a priest in his home. Now you might expect that a Levite would have more sense...more faith than to be bought by ten pieces of silver a year and a set of new clothes. But no, he goes along with it happily enough, and serves as a 'priest' in Micah's home. Verse 13 sums it up. Micah says that he now knows the Lord will prosper him because he has a priest. What a shambles.

It gets worse.

The people of Dan are yet to gain their inheritan ce, whether through lazyness or defeat we're not told here. They send out two men to search out the land, who come across the Laish, who live quietly and well. They decide to take this peaceful people's land off them and make it thier own. On the way though they come to Micah's house and take his priest and his household gods for luck and end up destroying the Laish and setting up Micah's gods on an altar there. Half way there Micah catches up with them and complains, somewhat pathetically that they have taken away his rented priest and man made gods. Oh the irony of that complaint. Unsurprisingly the people of Dan ignore him and send him on his way.

The next chapter has the subtitle 'a Levite and his concubine' which sounds no more promising. But consider what we see here. Supersittion of the LORD's name, the syncretism of household gods and Levites, the lack of lack of faith from a man supposedly set aside for God's service, the horrible greed and faithlessness of Dan the bondage of Micah to his idols, as well as the murder of thousands of inoocent people to occupy the land that was theirs.

Israel was in a bad way. Judges is nearly over, soon Samuel will be born, then Saul, and finally David, so there is sun on the horizon. But it's a cloudy sky. The time of Judges was a time just like today, and God provided a savior for them time after time who died. Thank God that we now have a Savior who has died once and never will again. It's impossible to read Judges without reflecting on the grace of God to His people, the foolishness of faithlessness and the neccesity of a ruler over His people who will never die. Thank God than in Jesus we find eternal grace and soveriegnty...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

coffee and music

it's symptomatic of our Pelagius-influenced retreat from the fear of God that our songs become less about the grace of God; the sovereignty of God; the holiness, splendour, immutability, awesome power and majesty of God. As church music has been influenced by the musical styles of popular culture, the songs we use have borrowed their structure, rhyming schemes and phrasing from love songs. This combines uncomfortably with our newfound conviction that we are pretty much ok in the sight of God: our songs gradually become more "me" focused. The songs we sing in church begin to describe more of how I feel, more of how God blesses me, more of what I intend to do for Him. They become couched in terms of love and romance: the language of intimacy, being held in His arms, declarations of love against the odds

its come to this

If you've visited my facebook profile recently, you'll have noticed something... Thats right, my religious views box is empty. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to look at my profile and work out that i'm a Christian, but i want to leave my 'religious views' bit blank. Two of my favourite religious views belong to Dave Bish, who considers himself a 'joyseeker' (amen) and Tom Price who 'doesn't believe in myself'. (amen). They tell the story of what it means to be a Christian much better than the word 'Christian' does. Not only because the word has so many bad connotations (and i'm not going all postmodern and claiming we need to get rid of the word, we need to reclaim it) and also, because Christianity really isn't a religion.

Here are two things i often think about writing on my profile when i'm feeling brave:

Religion is stupid.

Think about it. Most religions will tell you that God is omniscient and omnipotent. Normally, but not always, he's holy and good as well. But here's the thing, you have to go to a certain place at a certain time to worship him. And as long as you do that, and keep the rules you'll be fine. And you'll go to heaven, Now, there is a vast charicture of the worlds religions, but not a totally inaccurate one. But isn't it stupid? Doesn't 'religion' ignore the very things about God, namely His goodness and holiness that it professes to espouse? How can our works ever be good enough if God is really Holy, like we claim and hope He is? What low standards he must have is what we claim to do in religion is really good enough. And if God is loving, how can He compromise himself by lowering His standards? His standard must be 100%, and we just can't do that, no matter how religious we are, we will never, ever live the perfect life all the time. Our consciousness gives testimony to that. Religion is stupid because we don't need rules and tasks and humans comfort, we need a rescue. We need Jesus.

Religion will never be the answer.

Our hearts are satisfaction hungry. Jesus Christ is glory worthy. The best news i've ever heard, second to the Gospel itself, is that there is no division between God's desire and right to be first and all in my heart, and my hearts overwhelming desire for satisfaction. Our hearts were designed for a relationship with Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. Thats why we try and fill the gap with anything and everything we can; greed, anger, sexual promiscuity, all of which tragically drag us further away from who we need. Jesus. And religion will never provide that relationship. Christianity can't be something you do 'religiously' it has to be embracing the promises of God and the God of the promises, delighting in those truths and having your heart satisfied by them. Religion will never satisfy. It may comfort, it may build up, but it will never quell the deepest longing of our hearts. Religion is not the in Christ that spills over unstoppably into good works, thats the answer.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Gore

Every so often you come across a picture so bleak and beautiful that you could stare at it all day:

Mission Joy

One of the things i thought a lot about in Bulgaria was the cost of being a full time missionary. This really hit me one day when i was praying, and i realised how for the first time in my life i was properly homesick, to the extent that the deepest longing in my heart was to be sitting at home with my family, reading the paper and shooting the breeze.

This was not good. Not good at all, and mercifully the Lord delivered me from it very quickly. But that was the first time i realised the scope of what missionaries are called to give up. Big things, like most of my close human relationships, the vast amount of social and political security you get from living in the west, seeing my little sister grow up, being with my parents when they get old, through to the little things, like the view over the chilterns from my parents back garden, food that i enjoy, waking up with Moyles and getting home with Mills...everything really. At the time i was reading a biography of Hudson Taylor, a man who went through so much for the Gospel that it really is impossible to summarize, and who was able to say at the end of it all 'i never made a sacrifice'. There, surely is the essence of missionary joy. Thats what i longed and continue to long for in my heart.

And i'm glad Jesus knew that, and i'm glad that, as ever, He has the answer. He says, in Mark 10:29 that no one who has left anything will fail to recieve it back...but those who give up for the Gospel will not simply get back what they gave up, they will get back one hundrededfold what they gave away. Isn't that remarkable? Anything and everything we give up we will receive back abundantly, with persecutions, which are there to make us Godly, in this life and etenal life in the age to come.

If this isn't a Christian hedonist call to missions i don't know what is. Yes, there are sacrifices, but as ever in the Christian life, you sacrifice the lesser joy for the greater. Yes there's pain, but what joy to come in eternal life. Surely this is a call to missions that our satisfaction hungry hearts can not ignore. Surely the call is to fling away what we don't need but cling to in this life, for the sake of the glory of God now and forever, and our joy forever. That's whats being promised here...everything you give up, you will get back. Jesus is not made famous by people who hold things more valuable than Him, and lament the loss of those things for Him. He is made famous by a people who have their eyes fixed firmly on the Heavenly city and are willing to do anything to secure thier eternal, exceeding joy there...

Monday, August 13, 2007

it is well with my soul

This hymn was writ­ten af­ter two ma­jor trau­mas in Spaf­ford’s life. The first was the great Chi­ca­go Fire of Oc­to­ber 1871, which ru­ined him fi­nan­cial­ly (he had been a weal­thy bus­i­ness­man). Short­ly af­ter, while cross­ing the At­lan­tic, all four of Spaf­ford’s daugh­ters died in a col­li­sion with an­o­ther ship. Spaf­ford’s wife Anna sur­vived and sent him the now fa­mous tel­e­gram, “Saved alone.” Sev­er­al weeks lat­er, as Spaf­ford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daugh­ters died, the Ho­ly Spir­it in­spired these words. They speak to the eter­nal hope that all be­liev­ers have, no mat­ter what pain and grief be­fall them on earth.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!


And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul


Friday, August 10, 2007

Pray for David Shayler

David Shayler hasn't had the easiest of lives, so it might come as no surprise when he comes out with statements like this, in todays Daily Mail:

Last night, in an interview with More4 News, Mr Shayler made the astonishing claim that he had seen a psychic who he believes channelled the spirit of Mary Magdalene and anointed him as the Messiah.

He told the programme: "Suddenly my whole life made sense.

"I felt a sense of peace, I suddenly realised why it had been how it had - why I seem to get such a strange deal from the universe, when I seem to be trying to tell the truth about everything."

The 41-year-old even claimed there is an anagram of "David Shayler, Righteous King" on the rod of Aaron, a staff carried by Moses' brother in the Old Testament.

He said: "I looked at that, except the word in Hebrew for King was "chav".

"So at the moment I suddenly realised it goes David S, H, A... I'm going through my name. "And I'm thinking someone's trying to tell me, because this is the ineffable name of God, someone's trying to tell you you're God. "And at the moment you suddenly realise that someone's trying to tell you you're God: David Shayler, righteous chav."

I'm so glad that Jesus knew things like this would happen, and that He prepared us for it (matthew 24:23-26):

At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.

"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

When Jesus returns there will be no doubt. He won't have to take out an article in the paper, or be interviewed on an obscure digital news show. He will light up the sky from the east to the west, and we will know.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

bloggers fatigue

so i like to blog, it helps me think, and means that i am thinking, and helps me process things. But sometimes there are things i'm trying to process that i don't really want to blog about, and it seems that at the same time that's happening right now, i can't really think of anything to write as well. So on one level my brain is in overdrive, on another level, it's really not doing anything. Also, August will very quickly turn into september, when i start work, be an Usher at a friends wedding, and do a talk for new university students leaving Reading. I'm looking forward to that.

So in the meantime have the words of one of my favourite hymns that we sung a lot in Bulgaria:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

why bother?

There is indeed, something irresistable about getting the Gospel to eastern Europe. I can't explain it, but it's there, inside me. It lures and attracts me more than getting a good job, leading a quiet life in the suburbs and dying in my garden. I certainly don't want to die collecting shells in Punta Gorda, Florida. Keep me from that. But why should anyone bother? Why go somewhere like Bulgaria, why long to go back somewhere like Bulgaria? I think there are four main reasons.

The Glory
The glory of God is at stake in missions. Bulgaria is a country of about 8 million people, and just 0.5% of those are Christians. Now, even allowing for the fact that in a country of fewer Christians God's glory is more manifest in those who are calling on Him, thats still not much glory from people. Of course, the landscape and the weather and the diverse language and culture bring much glory to God. It's imposible to look at views like this without standing back in awe at our creator. But people were made to communicate the glory of the Lord in a different way. By worshipping Him, by waiting on Him, by enjoying Him. That the glory of God is supreme in the affections of God is fresh air to me. If i thought for a moment that me and my welfare was supreme in the affections of God then my passion for mission would be over. Now of course, the best bit about this is that my desire to be satisfied and God's desire to be glorified have the same end, because God is most glorified in me when i am most satisfied in Him. Isn't that good news? The glory of God is at stake, the glory that causes people to cry from their hearts 'how majestic is your name in all the earth' is at stake.

The Authority.
The great commission of Matthew 28 is a passage that i love. Oh the confidence and joy that it gives to the missionary endevour. All authority has been given to Him, therefore we are to go. Christ rules all, we must trust and go. He commands it, because of His authority. And because of these two things, the authority of Christ over us and over everything, we have the command to go, the twofold reason to go and the confidence to go. And this is compelling good news.

The Promise.
Matthew 24:14 is probably my favourite verse in the Bible. This Gospel will be will be preached to all nations, all tongues, all tribes, all people groups, and then the end will come. More authority from Jesus, and another great promise. We know the end is coming, we know that Jesus will return, therefore we know that the Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth. It's a conditional promise, the preaching of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth...but we know that the condition will be met faithfully and we know the Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth. So to not waste your life is to spend your life upon the glory of God through Jesus Christ in the mission field. And this doesn't neccesarily mean going abroad. The City needs missions, offices need missionaries, our families need missionaries and so do our friends. All Christians in that sense are missionaries, so we should have hope and confidence in the 2414 promise, and go and share the Gospel.

The Reward.
In some countries you can and will be killed for being a Christian, for sharing the Gospel. I believe that this number of countries will only increase as time moves forward. Better not go to those countries then? But what of Psalm 63:3? 'because the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life my lips will praise you' You see that? There is something better than life...the steadfast love of the Lord. They can kill our bodies, but not a hair on our head will perish. Again, great promises made with great authority to give us great confidence in the missionary endevour. They worst people can do to us is send us to Heaven to complete our joy. The devils greatest weapon is death, but Jesus has turned that great weapon into the beginning of our greatest joy, eternity with Him. A death that shows that Christ is more precious to you than life is not a death wasted...

let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,
the body they may kill, God's truth abideth still

His Kingdom is forever

Thursday, August 02, 2007

obicham te


The cafeteria was mostly deserted, as it should be half an hour after dinner ended. Just three people remained, sat at a table by the door.

'Its like' said the first American 'Bulgaria went to sleep in the 1300s, and woke up just before the first world war'
'wow' said the second American
'man...thats crazy' said the Englishman.

There are few places bleaker to be an evangelical in mainland Europe than Bulgaria. Now there's a brave statement, but for many reasons, some of which we'll go into, some of which we won't, i think its true. It's not the case in all of south east Europe either. Tim, the first american above, pastors a church in Shvistov in north Bulgaria. From his house he can look in Romania, where the frontier missionaries are being pulled out, because, well, it's not frontier mission in Romania any more. It sure is in Bulgaria.

We've already seen a reason for that. In the 1300s having spent a couple of generations as one of the most powerful Kingdoms in Europe, Bulgaria was overrun by the Ottoman empire, and subjected to Serfdom. It stayed that way for the best part of five hundred years. We can't imagine what that does to a national psyche. For five hundred years while the rest of europe pushed forward technologically, fought boundary defining wars and state defining civil wars, built empires and formed alliances, Bulgaria was nothing more than a large slave camp for the Ottomans. No one helped them, no one stood up to the Ottomans, until the 1870s when armies from Greece, Macedonia, Russia and Finland helped them to free themselves. Then seventy years later the communists turned up and that was that until the early nineties. Bulgaria is a country with a gaping hole in it's history, and that has an effect. And then of course there's the suffocating influence of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to whom 86% of Bulgarians claim allegance. Couple this with a mistrust of outsiders and Protestants are viewed as a cult. Orthodoxy is the one true church, Catholics are just about ok, and then there's JWs, Mormons and Protestants, the weird cults.

The biggest result of this, probably, is that Bulgarians, on the whole, do not believe in, and are not interested in outside help. And you can see straight away the consequences that has for the Gospel. It is a country that struggles to trust, as indeed you or i would, if we found out after the communists left that the reason my dad was killed in the sixties was that my next door neighbour had informed on him. My next door neighbour still lives there. Again, the implications for the Gospel and for evangelism there are huge. An interesting side effect of this is that while watching Superman Returns, most of the Bulgarians there agreed that Lex Luther was the hero. Superman was a curio, and oddity to be disregarded. But Lex was the man, he built himself and empire with his brains, on his own. Thats what the Bulgarians there respected.

We don't know what it's like to live in the west any more than a fish knows what it's like to be wet. If something happens in England, it's world news more or less. If the Prime Minister and President of Bulgaria got blown up tomorrow would we even know? Certainly almost no one outside Bulgaria would care. Which leaves the country in a suspicious, insular, self dependant state, which makes mission hard. Really hard. But i love it there. So much i can almost taste it. Nowhere is the contrast, the collision, between old and new more stark than in the centre of Sofia. There, on the lawn of the former communist part headquarters fly the flags of the member states of NATO. And that neatly sums it up.


Joining the small British team in BG were a team of ten from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and a team and eleven from the Free Will Baptist Church of American who came from all over the south, places like Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Places that have always seemed incredibly exotic to me, it was great to meet people from there.

It was such a blessing to meet Craig, the IFES working in Bulgaria, and the already mentioned Tim, both from America, who's lives both said 'God doesn't care about the American dream, and neither do i'. Both of them inspired me, both of them challenged me. Both of them made me want to be like them. I'm thankful for Ben, from UoP. He was like me only a couple of steps ahead. When we had the conversation with Tim he would be asking the questions i was getting towards, and ask them in a much more thoughtful way. I'm deeply thankful for another post dinner conversation we had together that was among the highlights of the trip. Ben was a top bloke and a good friend. We even got sick on the Black Sea together (and boy did we get sick, i've never before felt that my insides were climbing up my stomach, but hey we can say that we've had a pirate ship fight on the black sea and then watched the sun set into the hills behind Varna...even if we did feel like we were dying in the half an hour in between!). Given a couple more weeks i felt he could have been one for the inappropriate theological joke, surely the seal of any good friendship. And there was Someone Else as well. But this, as you'll appreciate is clearly not the place. I am in the excting but tough situation of trusting Christ and not having a clue. Which is hard.


I think God taught me two major lessons in BG. Here they are.

1) I really want to be a missionary. I really want it to be in Bulgaria. Put the words 'student' 'pioneer' and 'mission' together and i'm there. But God taught me a glimpse of what this would be like on the camp. Before i probably had a slightly idealised view of missionary life, but less so now. Am i prepared, God asked, to give up everything for the Gospel? To give up my family, and my friends, more or less all my close human relationships, all the benefits that come from living in the west, my chance to work a good job with good money, my chance to ever feel comfortable and at home? am i prepared to give up the little things? English radio, the view from my parents back garden, food i like, all for the Gospel. When i went to BG i thought i was. When i got there i was seriously homesick and realised that i wasn't. Now i think i am. Now what i want most in the world is to be back there. And i pray this isn't just an emotional response. It feels different. Am i prepared to learn a tough language with an alien alphabet, to put ten years in the bank before i can expect to get anywhere, to be regarded as a member of an odd western cult? I so want to be. I think something inside of me changed or broke during my time there. Drew said it was like i'd divorced my country, i keep calling her England, rather than home. I want to keep this feeling, this focus on BG with all my heart.

2) I was made for a relationship with God. I love really love the guys i emt out there, and saying goodbye was so hard, and it reminded me that i wasn't made for relationships that will break or end, i was made for one that will be perfect, and forever, and relationship with God the Father through the Son. It was good, if painful, to remember that.

and thats Bulgaria, my heart is still there. I hope i'm there as well soon. Please pray for me, that i would learn what God is teaching me. I've shed tears over what God is teaching me...but the missionary life, thats the life for me. I want to put my hands and face agains the granite and push, and heave with all my might, while i have might, for Jesus in Bulgaria.