Monday, 24 October 2016

A few unsystematic thoughts on the Ashers' bakery verdict

- What a travesty. We should be mourning before God for the
well-deserved judgments being poured out on our nation (Romans 1:18-32).

- It appears that now the government believes that it can compel speech.
People can be forced to say things that they belong to be wrong, immoral
or abhorrent. Christians can be forced to voice opinions that they
disagree with. The age of thoughtcrime is officially upon us.

- Notice how secular/sacred division stemming from the secular
"Enlightenment" has generated this absurd decision. The judge has held
that the viewpoint "homosexual relationships are moral" is not a
"religious view," but that the exact reverse viewpoint "homosexual
relationships are not moral" is a religious view. Even though one is the
exact negation of the other, and hence neither is more religious than
the other, the judge is presumably in thrall to secularism. So, if
Christianity says "X", then this is "religious" ... but if secular
humanism says "not X", that's not religious. Or perhaps, the preferred
opinions of the government are de facto just not religious, just because
they happen to have had enough members of parliament vote on them. Is
the government's viewpoint just "not religious" somehow automatically by
definition? In another context, this sort of way of thinking would be
called "blind prejudice".

- The question of whether the baker declined to print a slogan for
religious reasons or not would be moot in a free society. In a free
society, there is no such thing as government-compelled speech. The
state doesn't get to force citizens to repeat its slogans in free
societies, and citizens don't have to explain why they're not going to
repeat them. That is, rather, a feature of fascist states. The reason
why a citizen declines to repeat the government-preferred slogan is a
total irrelevance outside of that kind of setting. The very fact that
the judges think it's their business to pry into a citizen's thoughts,
to decide whether those thoughts provided an adequate reason to decline
to repeat particular speech, in itself shows how far we've fallen.

- And as such, what a travesty. May God, in judgment, remember mercy.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Thankful for Genesis 3

I'm so glad that the Bible contains Genesis 3. Otherwise, how to
understand life?

Life is so frustrating and disappointing. I am so frustrating and
disappointing. But at least, one of the frustrations isn't to be
continually perplexed about why life is so frustrating. The Bible
explains that very clearly. Our expectations are framed at the outset.

There will be, and now is, a Redeemer of this fallen world. But we will
live, until the appointed time when he perfects all things, in a fallen
world. I won't be, and life won't be, all that it could or should be.
And there's no need to bang one's head against a wall because of being
convinced that it ought to somehow be possible to live in the new
creation now, before Christ returns.

Genesis 3 frees Christians to live both with hope and realism in a world
in which thankfully there is the former, but which also requires the latter.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Some incomplete exegetical notes on the "gift of singleness"

At this link, Tim Challies asks and provides an answer to the question, "What is the gift of singleness?", referring to the single verse in the Bible where this terminology is explicitly used (1 Corinthians 7:7).

One reason I find this discussion interesting is, before the last few years, I had been accustomed to hearing a different explanation as the "usual" one. But in more recent years, I think I pretty much only hear the explanation that Challies gives.

In short, Challies (referring to Vaughan Roberts, and John Stott), explains thus: the gift of singleness is being single. People who are single are those who have been (for the present; for however long it lasts) been gifted with singleness. And people who are not single have been gifted with the gift of being married.

The alternative explanation is that the "gift of singleness" is a special endowment from God, enabling a person to remain single indefinitely, for the gospel's sake. The background to that idea is that human beings are sexual, and the "normal" (please understand that word in the proper sense) state for an adult is to be in a complementary sexual relationship, i.e. Biblical marriage - and that it is "not good for man to be alone" - that it is unhealthy, given human imperfection (even leaving aside sinful imperfection; remember that God spoke these words concerning unfallen Adam). The "gift of singleness", under this view, is an extra gift, enabling someone called to kingdom service to persist in this state without the normal attendant struggles that it causes, or not to the same degree, etc. That is to say, it is a spiritual gift like the others that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians - given to a particular believer (but not every believer in the same situation) for the gospel's sake.

Challies' purpose in his piece doesn't seem to be to argue between the views, but just to present the one he sees as correct. That's fine, of course. And of course, if you want to see the arguments weighed and considered properly, you should use a commentary. I'd like to make a few observations that seem to favour the alternative explanation.

- Firstly, the use of "gift" (charisma) in 1 Corinthians, as noted above. If this is a different kind of "gift", and particular a different kind of gift to the one he talks about a few paragraphs later, then this is mightily confusing. The language of spiritual gift is not used anywhere in the Bible in this way (as a general substitute for "blessing"), as far as I can see.

- In context, Paul has just addressed the subject of the necessity of regular sexual relations for married people, because of the dangers of doing otherwise. If he were then read to say "I wish you were all single (i.e. all had the gift that I have)", that seems incoherent. How does being single help one to deal with sexual temptation, compared to being married? To infer that all single Christians have a special assistance from God to resist sexual temptation which is not given to married people seems to have no support from the passage, and is explicitly contradicted by verse 9 (which, of course, gives no licence or excuse for fornication).

- Again, verse 9 envisages that for some single people, they have sufficient control over their sexual desires to be able to pass on marriage; and some do not (again note - they do not then fornicate and find that they have a convenient excuse for it; rather, as described by Paul they carry a particular ongoing psychological struggle and burden, described by Paul as "burning with passion"). This dovetails exactly with the view of the "gift" as a special ability given by the Spirit of God to a particular Christian, rather than something experienced by all unmarried Christians.

Much more could be said on the subject. Some sensitive souls are upset when reading about a sensitive subject unless all that could be said on that subject is actually said, all in the correct proportions. To such, I can only ask that they do not read what is not written, and try to see what spiritual profit there is in weighing up what is written.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and drink

A recently preached sermon on John 7:37-40. It's been a long time since I uploaded any, but I'm going to try...

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Ben Johnson 1988

The BBC website currently has footage of the infamous Olympic 100m final of 1988 online:

Though I can remember the 1984 Olympic Games, this final 4 years later is one of the first sporting events that I remember very clearly.

It was a much-hyped showdown between the man with the all-American super-hero image, Carl Lewis, and the much less media-genic Ben Johnson. Johnson stormed across the line in a world record, but days later was stripped of his title following a positive test for anabolic steroids. The "bad guy" had lost; the clean hero won the day. A great story for the press!

Many years later, a much broader range of facts was on the table. Lewis, whose time became the new world record after Johnson was stripped of his new and previous mark, had failed a drugs test at the US trials - which, had the US athletics authority chosen not to suppress the finding and not apply the rules, would have meant he would have been disqualified from the games. Two of Lewis's training partners failed tests at the same time for the same banned substances. Lewis' response when this came out many years later was essentially "who cares, everyone was doing it."

Linford Christie, who was upgraded from bronze to silver, also failed his drugs test at the Games - but the authorities chose not to disqualify him, probably fearing destroying the event's credibility. Fascinatingly, Johnson's trainer, whilst agreeing that everyone was doing it, continues to assert that Johnson's test was doctored to frame him, because whilst he was taking steroids, he was not taking the one that he tested positive for (but can you believe a cheat?).

Six of the eight finalists tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during their careers. According to Wikipedia, this documentary (I've not listened it to verify the citation) contains an IOC official saying that 80% of the athletes at the 1988 games had endocrine profiles indicating long term steroid use. On that basis, the 100m final was about average - and why would you believe that this event was dramatically different to the others? This was the games at which Florence "Flo-Jo" Griffith-Joyner, infamous for her drastically improved performance and changed appearance and deepened voice, won the 100m gold in a never-since equalled time, having shattered the world record two months before in the quarter finals of the US trials. She also set new world records in the semi final and final of the 200m, also never since equalled - her nearest all-time rival being 10 years later over 2 metres behind - and a self-confessed steroid cheat (Marion Jones).

The 1988 100m final was the first time that 4 men crossed the line in under 10 seconds, 3 of them having failed drugs tests in the games or trials. In the most recent 100m final (London 2012), 7 of the 8 finalists crossed the line in under that time. At least 4 of the 8 previously or subsequently failed a drugs test. Does it arouse your curiosity that the standards are now significantly higher than when everybody was taking steroids?

There are lots of things you could take from this. Everyone loves a story; but the story of the time may not be the whole story. That much is obvious. But, perhaps less obviously, the story that comes out later may not be the whole story either. Statistically, most of the people lining up in these 100m finals are (with time) *known* to be drugs cheats. Given that, it's overwhelmingly likely that there are many, many more unknown drug cheats. Clearly, the chances of not being caught are good enough to persuade a majority of the most tested competitors (those who get to finals and win things) to cheat. Some people cheat and are disgraced; but the odds are good enough to tempt many more to cheat and get away with it for an entire career. 23 athletes entered for the Rio Olympics were found to test positive after having their 2012 London Olympics samples re-tested using the advances of the last 4 years. What would we find if it were possible to re-test the 2000 Olympics samples using 16 years of advances? What would we find if we could do that 50 years from now?

This all makes me thing of the final judgment. Jesus has told us that everything hidden will be revealed - every secret will be put on display. I don't think that athletics will be on the radar of what's considered most important that day - my point isn't "hurrah, at last we'll get an accurate list of world-best times!" I'm using athletics merely as an illustration. The number of "hidden" things which people are betting on keeping covered forever is huge. In many areas, not some, but most of what you see is a lie. But in actual fact, none of it is actually hidden. The one who counts - our Maker and Judge, the one with power to throw both body and soul into Hell - sees all, records all, and will bring all into the spotlight.

We don't now know particularly what is hidden. But anyone who's kept their eyes open and been alive more than a few years (especially if they've been a church elder!) knows that the quantity of it is vast beyond comprehension. However, there is good news. Jesus did not only die for our obvious-to-others sins. He also tells us that, if will repent, make appropriate confession, and turn away from any of our sins, then we may be forgiven. I wonder how many athletes, once their short careers are over, carry a decades-long burden of guilt, knowing that all their fame, glory and achievement was built on a lie.

How many of our lives, though, are built on a lie? But Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and offers it to us. He is the truth, and his life was an open book of holy, pure truth, lived out. The world is full of liars and so it hated him and put him to death. God raised him from the dead, because God and his Truth must triumph in the end. He offers us a fresh start, and to be part of that. But we must abandon the lie. He who is ashamed of Jesus and his words, is someone that Jesus will be ashamed of on the last day - that's not my words; those are his, and therefore they are also true (Mark 8:38).