Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Tower of

The BBC reported recently on the shadow world of the World Wide Web – the Deep Web. The FBI recently closed down a major secret on-line market place for the sale of drugs, weapons and other illegal trade called the Silk Road. Operating using hidden sites and bamboozling cyber pathways – this internet underworld allowed a vast collection of criminals, paedophiles and illicit traders to connect and do business with each other. The internet allows these links across borders, offers a common language and even a common currency (the Bitcoin). The great unifier of humanity has, it seems, a dark heart.

The World Wide Web is a phenomenal invention, one of the wonders – perhaps the wonder – of our age. Its benefits and blessings are many – but like all humanity’s great inventions this one has not escaped being tainted by sin. Just as every good technology developed by humanity inevitably gets used for evil at some point (e.g. the design skills that build hospitals are the same used to build gas chambers / the pharmaceutical skills that gave us aspirin also gave us crack cocaine / the technology that gave us jet packs also gave us Ryanair!), so has gone the internet. Indeed the greater and more powerful the technology – the greater and more powerful is its potential evil. So the extraordinary power of the internet to connect, inform, amuse and educate – is also extraordinary in its potential to spread evil, facilitate exploitation, to corrupt, to troll and to operate beyond law and accountability.

The very ability to connect, have common language and band together has thrown up a great breeding ground for evil. We shouldn’t really be surprised though, after all we’ve been here before. The last time humanity enjoyed that kind of commonality, proximity and communication it quickly channelled it into the pursuit of godlessness. In the early days of human history men and women quickly used their unity to display their defiance and rejection of God.

I remember the reading the story of The Tower of Babel in my teens and thinking God’s reaction was perhaps a little severe. You remember, how God brought confusion among the people by the introduction of multiple languages and humanity was divided and scattered accordingly. ‘What a shame’, thought I (although I was probably doing German homework at the time). After all isn’t such division a bad thing, wouldn’t a common language be so much better, how nice to think of the world unified in a great ‘brotherhood of man’.

The internet is perhaps a clue to God’s concern at Babel. God in His wisdom, and in His mercy, curtailed the ability of humanity to band together precisely in order to put a check on the potential for evil by a unified humanity. The history of peoples, nations and cultures is in many ways the story of checks and balances – the working of restraints on the potential for evil to be unchallengeable in the world.

For now the challenge is to use the internet’s good potential for good – to redeem it for noble purposes inasmuch as we can. But its misuse should cause us to reflect on the providence of God all those years ago on the plains of Babel. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

FIEC Review & Challenges

Great overview of the work of FIEC and the challenges ahead 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the electrics in your car…

I have preached three times this year on Ephesians 6 and the Armour of God. In speaking about the battles we face in the Christian life, I’ve noted that Christians, along with the spiritual battle they face, also have to contend with the general stresses and strains of living in a fallen world. In the sermon I put it this way, ‘If you’re a Christian the pound in your pocket is not worth more than the pound in your next door neighbour’s pocket, neither are the anti-bodies in your blood stronger than the bloke down the pub’. However, in the last few weeks I would have been tempted to include a third example, ‘Neither are the electrics in your car more reliable than your friend's’.

Yes, there are few things that bring home to me  the reality that our current world is subject to frustration and imperfection more than an unreliable car. So after three weeks, a new alternator, a new fuse box, 7 days of car-lessness while it was in the garage, and the inevitable ‘stinger’ of the garage bill – we still have the problem of the battery light randomly coming on and threatening to force the car into shutdown (as has happened twice now).

Being of course so dependent on our car and hating all inconvenience in my life, it’s been  a struggle not to become obsessive about this issue. Indeed me and my wife (neither of us who have any engineering or electrical knowledge) have spent some time speculating widely about possible causes and trying to identify tell-tale patterns in the randomness of the battery light. I’ve spent time on web forums trying to see if someone has had a similar problem. All as if, I’ll maybe discover the magic fix while the mechanics with decades of experience continue to scratch their heads (and systematically charge me for replacing every component in my car). Obsessed? I’m even writing a blog on it!

However, in my saner moments, I’ve been able to reflect a bit more maturely and hopefully spiritually on what God might want to teach me in such a situation. So here goes….

1.    Perspective. It’s a hassle, annoying, expensive – but ultimately not a crisis. I’m writing this in the week the Philippines has been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan: the scenes of devastation and human misery are truly shocking and indeed humbling. Not that I should need a typhoon to shame me about being so self-pitying, there is more than enough misery on my doorstep to remind me of real difficulty and hardship in life. Like most Westerners I’m quick to make mountains out of molehills and elevate my relatively minor woes into great traumas. I remember a number of years ago a couple, who were scarcely at a church prayer meeting (you know the one for Mission, the sick, the nation), suddenly sending out ‘panicked’ prayer requests because they were struggling to sell their house. Lord give me perspective – not least in what I pray about.

2.    Jonah-esque Priorities. This follows on from the above but the story of Jonah came back to me in all this. Remember Jonah, after announcing his message of judgement to Nineveh, retreats to an overlooking hill in order to observe its destruction. But it’s hot, so God in His providence provides a shady plant for Jonah to sit under, however the next day God in his providence withers the plant – and Jonah is baking. All Jonah’s concern then becomes focussed on his personal comfort even to the point of crying out, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live’ (Jonah 4:8). It’s a shocking indictment, here is a man apparently blasé about a people facing judgement, who can take in his stride the forthcoming ruin of a city – but falls apart when his sun-shade malfunctions. Oh for a tenth of the concern for the welfare of my neighbours and my city that I have for my car! I can only pray that God will soften my heart in that regard and give more compassion for others – but in the meantime I do need to stamp on my own tendency to get stressed over such relatively trivial things.

3.    Grace. Along with the tough rebukes that I feel in this, I’m also conscious of grace. I’m conscious of the fact that 20 years ago this kind of situation would have ‘killed me’ – I would have been ‘up the walls’ with worry, trying to solve it, fretting about mechanics and how things might work out. Yes, I’m still a bit snarled by it – but not half as much. God does work in our lives by the Holy Spirit and I’m thankful for the evidence of that grace even in writing this blog.

4.    Hope. Whether a typhoon or unreliable electrics, we are surrounded by the reminders that this world is broken, it does not work properly, it is not as it should be. We live in a world subject to frustration and decay – a world bearing all the hallmarks and scars of having rejected its Creator. That’s not to be fatalistic – yes I want Vauxhall to build more reliable cars, and much more importantly there to be better flood defences, housing, and social conditions in the Philippines – but I also know none of those things is the ultimate cure to this world’s frustrations. Our great hope is in a renewed Creation brought back into line with the good Creator whose ways are life, health, blessing and perfection. For those who have that hope, the trials of life should make it burn that bit more brightly.  

Friday, November 08, 2013

FIEC & The Power of God

Just back from FIEC's annual Leaders Conference, this year in Norfolk. A record 466 delegates attended representing over 250 churches across the UK. The theme of the Conference was 'The Power of God' and we were blessed with great morning ministry from John Stevens looking at Ephesians and expositions of Psalms 32,33&34 in the evening sessions.

Particularly encouraging for me was to have 20 delegates from Scotland - who were able to meet together and discuss how FIEC can have an increasing impact in Scotland for Christ.

Updates concerning FIEC ministry around the UK included renewed Gospel work in Blackpool and Manchester, FIEC financial support for 22 men being trained for ministry, a project to map the most unreached areas of the UK and church plant initiatives, new personal evangelism material that is taking the city of London by storm, the forthcoming Hub Conference for people considering training for ministry, and the addition of 60 churches to the FIEC family in the past three years.

The message was loud and clear - in the midst of a society turning its back on God in many ways - the Gospel is still the power of God to save men & women and transform lives.