We’re not like that nowadays

[I started this post almost 5 weeks ago. Clearly, I haven’t reformed my procrastinating ways.]

Humans can be astonishingly self-contradictory. That’s what I took away from watching an episode of  History Cold Case, a BBC documentary in which “skeletons of everyday people from across the ages are analysed in staggering detail” (description from BBC website).

A little background info: In the Ipswich Man episode, a skeleton of an apparently sub-Saharan African man is found in a medieval burial ground in Ipswich during the construction of a residential complex. The team of scientists on History Cold Case sets out to find out what an African was doing in England in the period around 1200-1500: where he came from, how he got there and why he was found buried next to a monk in a friary cemetery.

What caught my interest was the role of Christians in the Ipswich man’s journey to and stay in England, because in it I saw the ugly and the beautiful in those who profess the name of Christ. First, the ugly. The scientists were able to conclude within reason that the man was taken to England by knights returning from the Crusades, though it remains unknown whether he went as a captive or a free man. The Crusades were a horrible idea, to put it mildly. Most of them were organised in the hopes of padding the coffers of European noblemen, who had no intentions of spreading the gospel. This, of course is a broad generalisation.

Now for the beautiful. The forensic specialist was able to deduce from the man’s skeleton that he suffered a spinal abscess that almost certainly disabled him and most certainly caused him no small amount of pain. Back then, cutting-edge medical care was to be found in monasteries. A study of some of the other skeletons found in the same burial site revealed that all those individuals suffered from debilitating chronic diseases, leading the team of scientists to the conclusion that they were being cared for by the Franciscan monks who ran the friary.

How is it that the same age produced such contradictory responses in men? On one hand, there were those who went —ostensibly in Christ’s name— to destroy life and on the other were those who went—in Christ’s name—to take care of people with little hope of recovery (in the age before penicillin).

What will future generations say about ours?

[And now for an addendum borne from further thinking through things]

As this post languished as a draft, I came to realise my arrogance and short-sightedness. My attitude reeked not only of elder-brother syndrome, but also of chronological snobbery.  I’ll start with the latter.

Chronological snobbery, a term coined by C.S. Lewis, is the mistaken belief that our age is superior to those that have preceded it. So we can look back even 50 years and think people then primitive in their thoughts and beliefs. Or indeed, I could watch a BBC documentary and think the Christians in the medieval period to be such brutes.

Elder-brother syndrome, named for the prodigal son’s elder brother in Luke 15, is being self-righteous and considering yourself better than someone else who does all sorts of vile stuff you’d never do. I’ve blogged about this syndrome before.

The truth is there are lots of people today who profess Christ and do all sorts of weird stuff (like protesting other churches). And there are probably many more who are pouring out Christ’s love to the “undeserving”. When faced with believers who’re not living up to what we perceive to be the right standards, we need to be more like Jesus and less like James and John, remembering that it is only through God’s enabling grace that we can live up to those standards.

A chemical education

This post is for anyone who’s been tormented by questions such as, “Why is there dimethicone in my deodorant?” Anyone else is fervently urged to move along, or else run the risk of being bored to tears.

Curiosity having got the better of me, and having a lot of time on my hands, I decided to look up the ingredients in my shower gel, shampoo, body lotion, deodorant and mouthwash. My research was greatly aided by Google suggest, meaning that I didn’t have to type put some of those impossibly long names in their entirety. Eventually I landed on a couple of sites which between them had a wealth of information: cosmeticanalysis.com and cosmeticsinfo.org. Here’s what I found (the names of the products may sound pretentious, and that’s because I looked them up on the manufacturers’ websites): Continue reading

Room temperature

This past weekend, and indeed all of last week, has been the hottest in Italy so far this year. ‘Hot’ just doesn’t begin to describe the weather we’ve had; one of the Italian terms (temperature infuocate) translates roughly to ‘fiery temperature’. That’s what I’ve been feeling in my bedroom:

Room temperature
Room temperature

The graph above represents readings taken yesterday from 6am to 11pm. The dip at 8am is as a result of my opening the window shutters (I sleep with the window open and the shutters closed). I forgot to take readings at 10am and 4 pm, so those two values are averages of the preceding and following values. On the other hand, I took readings at 3am Saturday (33.6°) and at 3am on Sunday (34.0°): the heat makes it hard to sleep well. Thankfully there’s no shortage of advice. This video tells me to sleep in a wet t-shirt and take warm showers, for example.

Unlike some, I prefer winter to summer (though sunset at 5pm bums me out). In December, I can wrap myself in a blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate and park myself near a heater. In July, I start to sweat 5 minutes after stepping out of the shower. I can’t wait for my favourite month, October!!

Update, 2 weeks later:

I took some more readings at the end of an uncharacteristically cool summer week, and got a minimum of 26.5 °C at 6am and a maximum of 31.9°C at 7pm. Put another way, the max temperature was lower than the min temperature of two weeks ago. I’m still waiting for autumn, though…

Come, Lord Jesus

One of the major themes in the New Testament that I can’t say I’ve heard too many sermons on is the return of Christ. As I was going through the epistles in my Bible reading plan I noticed how much the writers anticipated His return and conversely, how much I didn’t. So I went on a search to find out what the Bible says about the parousia.

The NT writers  describe it as the last time, the revelation of Jesus Christ, the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour, the day of God and the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. The return of Christ is a certainty

2. The day and hour are unknown

Jesus said so, and Paul repeated as much. For this reason, we are to be vigilant and patient. Continue reading

If the psalmist had PowerPoint…

… and a short attention span, he may have come up with the following:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank goodness David had more inspired creativity than that, and wrote a psalm that moves us to worship God for all He is.

Based on the meditation for July 6 in For The Love of God.

Okay, okay, I just wanted to try out the slide-show feature in WordPress.

Muy Bueno

This blog has new clothes. After over 27 months of being dressed in Connections, and around 3 months of watching what theme the WordPress Theme Team would release next, I’ve made a decision to go with Bueno. I’m still not satisfied with how it looks, but hey, I’m getting it all for free.

I like screenshots, so here goes: Continue reading

Reflections on Revelation

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I blog about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Deuteronomy and Isaiah. I’ve written about Revelation before:  An observation on Revelation and Jesus in Revelation.

D. A. Carson tells a story of a friend of a friend of his who was doing university evangelism in the UK, handing out copies of the New Testament. A few weeks later, the missions person tracks down one of the people to whom he gave a Bible. “Well, did you read that book I gave you?” “Yes, I did.” “What did you think of it?”  “It’s a bit of a strange book…  I mean, it’s a bit repetitive—on the front end they sort of tell the same story three or four times. But I sure loved the science fiction at the end!”

OK, though Revelation is really weird, it isn’t sci-fi. Christian views on how to interpret it are classified in four schools:

  • Preterist: Revelation deals with prophecy fulfilled in the past, in particular, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The problem with this view is that chapters 19 on seem to point to future events.
  • Historicist: Revelation is the story of the history of the church, century by century.
  • Futurist:  Chapters 4-22 of Revelation deal with the future, with what will happen just before the great tribulation.
  • Idealist: All the above are correct. There is a fulfillment of Revelation both in the past and in the future. It portrays the cosmic conflict between God and Satan and the battle is always raging.

Hmmm. Guess I’m an idealist.

It was helpful for me to learn that the book isn’t written in chronological order. For example, the mountains and islands flee more than once, in 6:14 and 16:20. John retells the same story from different points of view, with cycles ending in with the breaking of the seventh seal (ch 8), the blowing of the seventh trumpet (ch 11) and the pouring of the seventh bowl (ch 16).

Did you know that of all the NT books, Revelation is the one with the most allusions to the Old Testament? Here’s a sampling:

  • ch 1: Son of Man, Daniel 7:14-27
  • ch 2: Book of life, Exodus 32:33, Isaiah 22:22
  • ch 4: Throne in heaven surrounded by living creatures, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1
  • ch 5: Scroll, Zechariah 5:1-3
  • ch 5: Lion from tribe of Judah, Genesis 49:9, Isaiah 11:10
  • ch 6: Horses and riders, Zechariah 1:8, 6:3
  • ch 7: Sealing, Ezekiel 9:4, Eph. 1:14
  • ch 9: Locusts, Signs of judgment from Exodus plagues and Joel 2
  • ch 13: Composite beast, coming from sea, Daniel 2, 7
  • ch 17: Babylon’s wealth and seductions, and fall, Isaiah13-14, 46-48; Jeremiah 25, 50-51
  • ch 18: Fall of Babylon, Isaiah 13, 14, 21, 46-48; Jeremiah 25, 50-51; Daniel 2,7; Hab. 3
  • ch 21: New Heavens and New Earth, Isaiah 65, 66

D.A. Carson describes Revelation as ‘a tale of two cities’—Babylon and Jerusalem. You’re a citizen of one or the other. Either you get the mark of the Beast and face the wrath of the Lamb, or you get the seal of God and face the wrath of the Beast. For me, what came to mind was Luke 13:5—unless you repent, you too will perish.

Finally, my personal observation. As I read chapter 1, I was struck by the incongruity of the relationship between John and Jesus. Here was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who at the Last Supper had reclined next to Him. And yet, when he meets the risen and glorified Christ, there wasn’t a chummy reunion with friendly banter. He fell at Christ’s feet in fear.  Have we made Christ too fuzzy? A recently published novel has a man spending a weekend with the Trinity, and he never once falls on his face in realisation of God’s holiness and transcendence. He’s not like us. Or, as C. S. Lewis says of Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”

Sources: Covenant Theological Seminary, FBC Durham, D. A. Carson

Reflections on Isaiah

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I blog about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Deuteronomy and Revelation.

I didn’t know what to expect when reading Isaiah. A few chapters in, I was asking myself how people ever made sense of prophecy. For example, Isaiah 7:14 tells of a virgin giving birth to a son, which Matthew 1:23 points out as a prophecy fulfilled in Christ. However, Isaiah 7 is about Ahaz, king of Judah and it would seem that the prophecy is something that should come into fruition in Ahaz’s lifetime. In the rest of the book, there are oracles that swing from Isaiah’s present-day to “that day” all within the space of a few verses: for example, in chapter 16, verse 5 is about the coming Messiah’s reign, and verse 14 is about an event 3 years away. My mind kept going back to 1 Peter 1:10-12. The prophet was even more clueless than I am, but thank God he faithfully wrote it down for us future generations!

Bible scholars (or at least the ones I consulted) divide the book of Isaiah in 3 parts: Continue reading

Reflections on Deuteronomy

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I blog about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Isaiah and Revelation.

[Six months down, six to go in my annual Bible reading plan. So far, I’ve read 772 chapters, though 10 of those are repeats. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, so I’m doing pretty well, if I may say so myself. ]

Moses was an old man, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone, as he assembled the Israelites at the place where 40 years earlier they had failed to trust in God and claim the promised land. Moses gives a series of addresses to the people; his words are not those of a grumpy old man, but of a man who wanted to make sure that the people would remember all he’d previously taught them (reminds me of 2 Peter 1:13-15).  He reviewed their history since their leaving Egypt, reminding the people of God’s miraculous provision, their rebellion, God’s judgment, God’s mercy and His commands.

Reading some of the commands Moses gave, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the story of Israel would have been if they had followed them. Had they diligently taught their children (Deut 6:2), they wouldn’t have fallen into idolatry so soon after Joshua’s death (Judges 2:8-13), and would have spared themselves a whole host of problems that came with rejecting God. Yet God never stopped loving those rebels. Why? Because He is a covenant-keeping God: Continue reading