Sunday, 31 January 2010

Több Paprikát, Kérek Szépen!*

We had our first Hungarian (sister) come into membership at church today. Hungary is a country I know little about although I have been there once.

Here are some top tips, sent in by Kinga, on how you can spot a Hungarian.

You know you are a true Hungarian:
  • When you use sour cream more than ketchup.
  • When feeding your guests is your main priority even if they claim they’re not hungry, in which case you get slightly offended/upset because they don’t want your hospitality.
  • When Paprika on the table is just as important as salt & pepper.
  • When you tell to somebody that you are Hungarian and they ask “Are you hungry?” Then you congratulate them on being the millionth person to say that to you.
  • When you know that the “goulash” you see in many restaurants has little/nothing to do with the “gulyás leves” we really eat.
  • When meeting another Hungarian in a foreign country is a truly amazing experience.
  • When a pancake is extremely flat in your country and you roll it up instead of folding it.
  • When do you not speak with your mouth full.
  • When you go into a Chinese restaurant and order your Sechuan chicken with French fries, cucumber salad and a few slice of bread as well.
  • When you NEVER leave home with wet hair because you can get a cold and you ALWAYS take your hair dryer with you when going abroad and are astonished when people do not have one in their own homes!
  • When your language has two words for love.
  • When you have a "name day" and no foreigner understands what that day is good for.
  • When you use fruit to make soup.
  • When you smuggle food and drink into the cinema to save money.
  • When you have guests and you make at least 2 kinds of soup, 4 different main courses and at least 2 kinds of cake even though you know it’s way too much.
  • When you think it’s perfectly reasonable to take small kids for a walk when it's -1 outside just so they get some fresh air.
  • When you have to stand out in the rain to grow tall.
  • When you eat bread with just about everything, even potatoes.
  • When your childhood fairytales didn’t end as “they lived happily ever after” but “they lived happily until death”.
  • When you have the largest collection of plastic bags in the world but will still take loads from Tesco because they are free.
  • When you go to a restaurant and put your bread from the table into your bag so you can eat it at home.
  • When you keep an old black and white TV and other useless objects because maybe one day you'll find a use for them.
  • When your friends or family think you are crazy and yell at you because you don’t wear “papucs” (slippers) around the house all the time to prevent yourself from catching a cold.
  • When you refuse more food and you automatically have an eating disorder.
  • When what you are eating for dinner tonight actually started out as a “pörkölt” three days ago, then morphed into a “rizses hús” and tonight is a“székely káposzta”.
I don't know what those last three dishes are. Kinga, if you are reading this can you tell us?

*More paprika, please!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Explicit Trinitarian Disclosure in the Old Testament

Exodus 33-34 is (for me) one of the high points of the whole Bible.

The God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit all rock up together to meet Moses on Mt. Sinai and make their way known to him. Here's my attempt to show the Old Testament off in the Trinitarian fashion in which (I believe) it was meant to be read. Comments/corrections welcome.

The person/words/actions of the Father are in blue. The person/words/actions of the Son are in red. The person/words/actions of the Holy Spirit are in purple. The whole Trinity is represented in green.

N.B. Presence refers to the Angel of God and the Cloud - ie the Son and the Spirit. Who have accompanied them ever since they left Egypt and whose presence, in the midst of God's people, marks (and has always marked) them out from all the other peoples on the face of the earth.

Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people." The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."

Then Moses said to him, "If your
Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."

And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."

Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."

The LORD said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain."

So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, one compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance."

There is a holy and eternal interplay here: The Son proclaims and glorifies the Father, then the Father honours and glorifies the Son, as it has always been.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

What's The Opposite of Spot the Difference?

Someone recently asked me if the angel mentioned in Exodus 23:20 is Jesus.

I said yes. (If that concept is new to you click here.)

As I pondered her question I found myself musing on some not insignificant similarities between this bit of Exodus and John 14:1-11. I don't believe these are a coincidence:

Exodus 23
(The Father is speaking from inside the cloud after descending to Sinai)

"Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

"When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces.

John 14
(Jesus echoing the words of his Father from Sinai)

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.


And news just in from CARE on the recent religious freedom vote. Good news I feel.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Be Still and in Awe of Jesus

In my Bible reading plan, I've just reached the part where the Israelites are led out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. Here is that event as depicted by Hollywood:

The animation going on here is amazing - even if it's now a little dated. It still has me in tears though! What it must have been like to know God's deliverance there...

And yet if you go to the Biblical text, significant details are left out of this account. Hollywood, as ever, exalts the human and downplays the divine. For example...

There's no mention of the grief that Moses got from his own people. (And it wouldn't be the only time - despite all that they had already seen of God's awesome saving power.)

No mention of how the Son of God - (the Angel of God), and the Holy Spirit - (the cloud), moved to the back of the Israelites to defend them from the Egyptians.

No concrete person to person interaction between Moses and the LORD (Jesus) just a New Age-y kind of intuitive remembrance of the Burning Bush encounter.

No mention of Christ looking down on the Egyptians from the cloud and throwing them into confusion as they passed through the same Red Sea chasing the Israelites.

No mention of how Moses, already well clear of the water, stretched out his hand and under God brought the water back over their Egyptian pursuers sealing their death.

No mention of the praise given by the Israelites to God once they had passed through the Red Sea, just High-5s all round, as if they had done it themselves.

No mention of how Moses preferred the rewards of faith in Christ, but instead an impression that he still hankered after the old way of life and the pleasures of Egypt.

No mention of the Israelites' covenant relationship to the one who had brought them out of slavery and though the waters of judgment to new life. Only a glib reference to freedom of the human kind and a pat on the back for Moses, the courageous leader - because after all, it is only a human metaphor isn't it?

So OK Richard you've got that grumpy old pointy fingered knit-picking grumble off your chest, now give us something to savour!

As with the whole Bible, there's symmetry here. The Son of God announced and exemplified his saving work through concrete historical events in ways impossible for humans (even we who live in such technological times) or nature to recreate. So that when he, the indestructible, eternal God-Man from heaven, took on the fragile form of flesh that we know all too well, there would be no surprises and we would understand completely. (Only unbelief could keep us from seeing.)

Having acted out his future crucifixion to Moses in the burning bush and to the people of Israel in the Passover, Jesus leads these, his people, out of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea (a picture of baptism - of dying to the old way of life and being resurrected to live for Jesus). This Red Sea was parted by the Spirit (a wind from God) a picture of how God guides and carries all those who trust Christ safely through his righteous judgment to be united with them.

Jesus then vanquishes his enemies - the enemies of his people - the ones who kept them captive in slavery by swallowing them up in the waters of judgment, the same waters that should, (but for the love of God demonstrated in the plan of the Father and the tag team of the Son and the Spirit) have swallowed up the Israelites.

What did God's people have to contribute?

After which, they could party hard in praise and worship!

Jesus is awesome. Jesus is everything.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Please read...

If you haven't Craig's latest blog entry already, please read it here. (Will not take you more than 1min)

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Food in the City, Haiti and a thought on the New Creation

Below, Carolyn Steel talks about the relationship between food and cities and how we have "freed" ourselves from our ties to the land.

But when something like a tsunami, hurricane or earthquake hits, then in a matter of minutes, this whole infrastructure of "freedom" is destroyed, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands on the verge of starvation. It's at times like this, we remember just how fragile and dependent we really are - when everything we've built lies in ruins.

Port au Prince is nearly three times the size of Reading, with a totally crippled infrastructure: no passable roads, a chaotic bottleneck at the airport and a destroyed shipping port. And the number of desperate starving mouths to feed is huge and growing.

For the rich, no amount of money can get them the food they need, and certainly not what they want. As for the poor, who knows how many will die as a secondary effect of the earthquake.

Moreover, who knows how many will be brutalised by the effects of mass looting and violence as people, driven by the desire to survive, do many inhumane things?

Last week, due to snow, my local supermarket was clearly down on food supplies. (However, the cosmetics aisles were still well stocked.) Whether that was because the infrastructure was badly affected or because people panic shopped I have no idea, but I found it eerie and humbling.

I realise I paint a bleak picture here, from an ironic comfy chair that cradles me and my more than adequate energy reserves. I don't want to be morbid, just real and honest.

No doubt there will be many who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, not least thousands of mothers for the sake of their children. If I'm honest, I haven't quite worked out what my response to all this is. There is often a thin line between due financial diligence and a stingy selfish miserliness. Whilst, I'm against false guilt, emotionalism and knee jerk reactions, I also know it's possible to be a little too cool and "good investment" oriented. I must not forget that if it was me and my own children starving, I'd just be grateful for your help.

Many Christians see the city as the focal point of God's purpose - the place where everything is heading. This is true, but also misleading, because the cities we live in today are not like the one we see in Revelation, which is why I find Steel's video fascinating, (even if I wince every time she refers to humans as animals). The spirit of the age that creates the urban jungles we are well familiar with is not like the Spirit who will one day recreate the whole cosmos and bring all God's people - the Bride of Christ - to the heavenly city.

The New Jerusalem is not a megalopolis, but a garden city. A place where those who love Jesus have been given to rule over creation; being in harmony with it rather than plundering, pillaging and polluting it to put themselves on a pedestal.

Many labour under the (idolatrous) delusion that we must create (the impossible) utopia in this life. I am persuaded however, that we are to love humbly, generously and sacrificially, whilst patiently waiting and hoping in Jesus for the perfection of the next.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Eternal Gospel God Revealed in Jesus Christ Right From the Start... - Illustrated Musically

This is a follow on from one of last week's posts, but from a musical angle.

Have a listen to the familiar piece of classical music below. Notice how it begins: the flute introducing the tune, echoed by the oboe. This interplay between these two wind instruments continues until suddenly the whole orchestra exuberantly bursts into life, caught up into the same music the flute and oboe have been playing all along.

The same theme is then repeated with different variations and textures until the end when the flute and bassoon (same woodwind family as the oboe) bring things to a close in a rested and stately fashion and the rest of the orchestra follows.

There's an echo of the gospel here. The initiation of the Father and the reciprocation of the Son in the fellowship of the Spirit and the joyful participation of the church in every age of history from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus to Paul to Athanasius to Luther (to you? - to your entourage?) and so on as she is caught up into these incredible eternal purposes and brought in joy to her place of rest and peace.

The bible, history yea reality itself, is, and always has been, about Jesus - the one who reveals the Father in the unity and power of the Spirit. The only faith that saves, and has ever saved, is conscious faith in the Son of God, who has many titles all down the Bible, but one work - to make a people not only fit for fellowship with himself, but with his Father also.

In this purpose alone, the cross of Jesus Christ makes final sense.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Seeing the Special and Significant in the Small

I do enjoy Sundays. Gathering with the family of God to praise and worship Jesus, encouraging one another in the Spirit to leave behind the old way of life and press on in faith until we meet Father and Son together in the New Creation.

I also look forward to Sunday lunches afterwards. That said, preparing them is a labour of love, even when you use all the shortcuts going; such as only washing and not peeling the veg. I tell the guests (often students who are grateful for a free lunch and so allowing me to feel less guilty about not peeling) that the roughage of an unpeeled potato is good for them, (although admittedly I don't apply that principle to every area of my culinary repertoire e.g. banana in a fruit salad). In truth, the real reason for avoiding this ritual is that I find the process about as appealing (no pun intended) as the prospect of having to manually operate the blinking of my own eyelids. So will look for any excuse to get out of it.

This week, along with washing up, the students showed their appreciation by building a snowman, or rather, Big Snow Mama in our back garden. It was a sterling effort to say the least, although I'm now nervous that the neighbours will think I'm a member of some strange Aztec Fertility Cult! :-S

I remember back to my own student days when Dorothy, a godly widow with a thick Lancastrian accent and brilliant sense of humour used to feed us almost every week! The meals were varied and delicious, but the one constant every time (apart from the fruit jelly moulded in the shape of a racing car for dessert) was her warmth, love and genuine concern for our welfare. There was comfort in her consistency.

My menu will never be as varied as hers, as those who have been here more than once will testify. But her warmth, love and genuine concern for the welfare of others is something I want to emulate.

It's funny, I feel like a weirdo that when asked what I did on Saturday night, I'll say I stayed in to cook. But in truth I love it, I can listen to my audio bible or a good audio book, sing or even pray whilst I'm working, and moreover, I am convinced that relationships fostered over food change the world. If Jesus could humble himself to that kind of task, then who am I not to...

Postscript: If you do ever get peeled veg from me - then know you're someone who's really special (or who petrifies me ;-).

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Choose Life

The notes from my sermon on Deuteronomy 30:11-20...


Moses, the man who has led the people of God for the last 40 years is about to die and is giving his farewell address to Israel. As a people, they are on the verge of crossing into the land God had promised to give to their forefathers about 500 years previously. They were about to step into a great calling as a nation. Through the laws Moses was giving them, it would be their privilege to showcase to the world the greatness of the coming Messiah and something of what the New Creation would look like. He had a simple parting word to give them. Choose Life.

Choosing life meant simply this: Loving, trusting and obeying Jesus - the Lord who had led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, through the desert, who had sustained them with food and drink and now would lead them into the promised land. (Jude 5, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13). Jesus, who had mentored Moses, would now mentor Joshua as he picked up the baton to lead the people on.

Loving Jesus, for the Israelites, meant obeying all 613 laws that he had laid out for them. Following these commands were the way in which they could express their devotion and love to him. Whilst God in his mercy has always made provision for human weakness (for all of us sin and need forgiveness), he has never made provision for a divided heart. Their need was not intelligence, but humble trusting obedience of Jesus.

How does this apply to us today?
In 2010 our calling is the same as Israel's: to showcase to the world the greatness of Jesus and something of glory of what the New Creation will look like. For us choosing life means the same for us as it did for Israel: Loving and trusting Jesus and evidencing that by obedience to all his commandments.

If you are in Christ, then know the truth that neither your past failures nor the present limitations of your circumstances can disqualify you from loving Jesus and trusting him. This life may not turn out to be all you hoped for, but it will be all you need to prepare you for the new creation and life with God. Therefore say no to a divided heart, a compromised allegiance and say yes to whole-hearted devotion to Jesus.

Choose life by trusting Jesus and making good and wholesome choices. Say no to lust, greed, selfishness, negligence, intoxication, gossiping, slander, deceit, manipulation, peevishness and the like and say yes in Christ to love, sincere generosity, diligence, honesty, self-control, self-sacrifice and the like.

We don't live for the routine of eating, we have the routine of eating so that we can live. Our attitude should be the same with the spiritual disciplines. For example, I don't live for the routine of reading the bible, I have the routine of reading the bible because I want to truly live in fellowship with the God who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Israelites did not have the Holy Spirit, like we now have him. They failed in their mission. We who have the Spirit of God living with us and in us to lead us in all these things can be humbly confident that God will not see us fail.

1 John 3:1-3: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Suggested Questions
  • What reaction does the phrase: "God makes provision for human weakness, but not for a divided heart" provoke in you?
  • Do you have any spiritual routines? If yes, are they life or death to you? Why/why not?
  • What goals/resolutions have you set for this year that require you to throw yourself onto Jesus and trusting him? If none, have you set your sights too low?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Eternal Gospel of God Revealed in Jesus Christ, Right From the Start...

If you wanted a metaphor for how the eternal gospel of faith in Jesus Christ is revealed in the Bible, the following video is a good one.

Just as the title Red Sky, Clouds is obvious early on in the painting (even if the details are yet to be fleshed out); so too Adam and Eve know what they have to do to be saved. That is trust the God who appears to them (Jesus) and all he will do to reverse the curse of their rebellion. In short, they know he will become like them so that he can, by his own suffering and death defeat the serpent, take away their shame and punishment, give them righteousness and renew the whole cosmos so that they can enjoy unhindered face to face friendship with the Father and Son in the Fellowship of the Spirit.

That skeletal message then gets fleshed out over the course of the whole Bible.

And you're sitting there thinking... How does he get that from Genesis 1-3?

Friday, 1 January 2010

Know Where This Is All Going...

Today, along with almost 30 friends, I've begun following a reading plan that will take me through the whole bible over the course of 2010, reading on average between three and four chapters a day.

The first three chapters of Genesis raises a fistful of questions. (I could probably fill up my "question logger" on the basis of just today's reading!) But beyond all my personal interest questions lies a most important question: Where's this all heading...?

Here's my starter for 10, do chip in with comments/charges of heresy and the like.

God the Father selflessly gives the whole cosmos as a gift to God the Son. And to prove that this giving is truly selfless, has chosen to set up in such a way that he doesn't participate in it. Rather, he leaves everything to the Son. No micro managing here!

God the Son, being equally loving and selfless, and not wishing to hog this gift for himself, does everything (creation/salvation) so that the Father can share this gift with him. The goal of Salvation is face to face fellowship with both the Father and the Son.

Jesus became like one of us so that we could one day become like him enjoying the fellowship of his Father.

That is why partial paradise of Eden will be superseded by the perfect paradise of the new Jerusalem. That is why the end is better than the beginning.

We find this difficult to follow because we labour under the delusion that history is all about us.

Put in simple terms, the next time a loved one gives you a gift (e.g. a box of chocs) and you share that love gift with them, you are, in a tiny way, mirroring the divine eternal love of the Father and the Son and summing up the whole of history. Impressive eh?? Bet you never thought chocolate could be that profound!

I barely feel the weight of what I am uttering!

God help me!!