Monthly Archives: September 2008

the kiss and tell of social networks

Users of social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, are redrawing the boundaries between what is public and what is private, writes Nick Galvin.

In July, MySpace drew 114 million global visitors, up 72 per cent on last year, while rival Facebook leapt 270 per cent to 52.2 million visitors in the same month, according to web measurement company ComScore.

Add in the amazing popularity of other sites, such as MySpace rivals Bebo and Friendster, and it is clear there is an extraordinary social experiment happening. It’s an experiment that involves radically redrawing the boundaries between what is public and what is private.

Among many younger net users there is now an assumption that everything should be shared and a casualness about what was once thought of as personal information that makes many older people shudder.

“I don’t know what it is like to live your entire life publicly online,” says social media expert Jeffrey Veen. “But there are kids today who are figuring it out.”

Read the whole article here.

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reflections on death #1

I have been continuing to reflect on the idea that people have a fear of death, and that this fear is translated into some sort of idol worship, with the object of trying to minimise or distract from this fear. That observation gels with someone thing I read somewhere once, that whatever worldview you end up adopting, it needs to offer some sort of explanation for the 2 big realities of death and suffering.

I found a book in my local library today: Poems and Readings for Funerals, edited by Julia Watson (London: Penguin, 2004). It consists of just that – classic poems and items, all dealing in one way or another with death. It is fascinating to see the broad spectrum of responses to the unescapable reality of death. I thought I might share them here over the next few weeks or so.

The first reflection: denial.

‘Death is nothing at all.’

Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away
into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way
that you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of
solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same that it ever was; there is unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.

All is well.

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1928) [page 7]

But this doesn’t explain the sense of loss that gives rise to grief at all, does it?

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Richard Baxter on how to test those who claim to have a prophecy

Quest CLXIV. How is a pretended prophet, or revelation, to be tried?

Answ.1. If it be contrary to Scripture, it is to be rejected as a deceit.

2. If it be the same thing which is in the Scripture, we have it more certainly revealed already; therefore the revelation can be nothing but an assistance of the persons faith, or a call to obedience, or a reproof of some sin; which every man is to believe according as there is true evidence that indeed it is a divine revelation or vision; which if it be not, the same thing is still sure to us in the Scripture.

3. If it be something that is only besides the Scripture, (as about events and facts, or prophecies of what will befall particular places or persons) we must first see whether the evidence of a divine revelation be clear in it or not: and that is known, 1. To the person himself, by the self-attesting and convincing power of a divine revelation, which no man knoweth but he that hath it(and we must be very cautelous lest we take false conceptions to be such). 2. But to himslef and others it is known, (1.) At present by clear, uncontrolled miracles, which are God’s attestation; which if men show, we are bound (in this case) to believe them. (2.) For the future, by the event, when things so plainly come to pass, as prove the prediction to be of God. He therefore … is to be heard with a suspended belief; you must stay till the event show whether he say true or not: and not act any thing in the mean time on an unproved presumption either of the truth or falsehood of his words.

4. If you are in doubt whether that which he speaketh be contrary to God’s word or not, you must hear him with a proportionable suspicion, and give no credit to him till you have tried whether it be so or not.

5. It is a dangerous snare and sin to believe any one’s prophecies or revelations merely because they are very holy persons, and do most confidently aver or swear it. For they may be deceived themselves. As also to take hysterical or melancholy delirations or conceptions for the revelations of the Spirit of God, and so to father falsehood upon God.

Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory (1673; repr., Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1996), cited in W.Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today 2nd ed (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 355-6.

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John Piper on preparing for sudden suffering

Recently I wrote that we seldom know the micro reasons for our sufferings, but the Bible does give us faith-sustaining macro reasons. It is good to have a way to remember some of these so that when we are suddenly afflicted, or have a chance to help others in their affliction, we can recall some of the truths God has given us to help us not lose hope.

Here is one way to remember. Five R’s (or if it helps, just pick three and try to remember them). The macro purposes of God in our sufferings include:

Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything on earth above God.
Luke 13:4-5 – Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Suffering is a call to trust God not the life-sustaining props of the world.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 – For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Suffering is the discipline of our loving heavenly Father so that we come to share his holiness.
Hebrews 12:6, 10-11 – The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…. He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Suffering is working for us a great reward in heaven that will make up for every loss here a thousand-fold.
2 Corinthians 4:17 – This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Matthew 5:11-12 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Suffering reminds us that God sent his Son into the world to suffer so that our suffering would not be God’s condemnation but his purification.
Philippians 3:10 – …that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings.
Mark 10:45 – The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

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Lloyd Jones on discerning spiritual activity

I am speaking particularly to those good, honest, spiritually-minded men and women of any age whatsoever who are longing for revival and reawakening . . . For it is your very anxiety to know the fullness and the baptism of the Spirit that constitutes your danger and exposes you to this possibility of not using your critical faculties as you should. . . .

Do not rely only upon your inward feelings . . . that is entirely subjective, and while I do not discount the subjective altogether, I say it is not enough. You must not rely solely upon some inner inward sense, because that is the very thing the devil wants you to do. That means you are not using your full critical faculties; deciding in a purely emotional and subjective manner.. . .

do not be swayed even by the fact that something reported to you makes you feel wonderful . . .You may say, ‘I have never known such love, I have never known such peace, I have never known such joy’ . . . do not say ‘I feel this is right, everything in me says this is right . . .’ It is not enough. The devil is as subtle as that . . .

Lastly, do not base your judgment on the people who are . . . making their report to you . . . It is often some of the best, most honest and sincere people who can be most seriously led astray . . . The devil does not waste any of his time and energy with your smug formalist — he is safely asleep, already under the drug of the devil, though he is sitting in a Christian church.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, (Eastbourne UK: Kingsway Communications, 1995) 193-195.


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Filed under gifts, holy spirit, theology


I have recently finished Peter Bolt’s Living With the Underworld. We did it as part of the Digging Deeper Bookclub at St Paul’s.

I have had a good time reading and discussing this with others, both online and at a discussion group we ran at my place.

One of the things that struck me about the book was the observation about how the fear of death lies at the basis of most human anxiety and behaviour. It is an extended discussion, but here’s a taste:

Now it all comes together! Because of our sin, the world lies under the sentence of death, a sentence we carry around with us in our mortal flesh. This causes a profound disruptive anxiety, a fear of death, that may be expressed in different ways, and masked in different ways, but is always there. This fear of death makes us long for security, for something that will calm our fears. We are security-seeking missles, and this opens us up to believe the lies of the devil, who tells us that our security is to be found in the things of this world. And, of course, these are all his to give, because this world belongs to him. At that point, our fear of death has taken us to exactly where the master of the underworld wants us: we are his slaves.

Peter Bolt, Living With the Underworld Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2007, 98-99.

I reckon he’s right. After I read this, I began looking around for signs of confirmation. And found one in the most bizarre place – the children’s wear department of a local department store. We were looking for clothes for the boys, and I noticed that most of the shirts are covered in skulls. Shirts for 4 year olds, covered in the symbol of death!! What’s going on with that?!

Of course, the designers will print stuff that they think, boy will think is ‘cool’. But I wonder whether the attempt to make death ‘cool’ is just another way of trying to avoid the anxiety that it provokes in us? And why not start that process at a young age?

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Chrisitians bent on maturity should work hard at gratitude. Thankfulness to friends, parents, senior believers who have helped us on our way, and abpve all to God himself, is not only common courtesy, it is something more, much more: it is simultaneously a powerful antidote to bitterness and malice, and potent acknowledgement that we stand by grace. What else could ever displace gratitude as the appropriate response to grace, whether the special grace that brings us salvation or the grace mediated through fellow believers, friends and events? Grace gives; what more can we do than give thanks? What response to grace could be more vile than ingratitude?

D.A.Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity, 160.

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the 3rd heaven?

Sunday night we tried the ‘text in your question during the sermon’ thing again, and this time with a bigger response. The question that got asked the most about the passage (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), was, ‘What is the 3rd heaven that Paul talks about in 12:2?’, but we didn’t get time to answer it on the night.

Let me have a go now – feel free to comment!

The passage in question:
“2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”

So what is the third heaven? It seems fairly clear that we can equate ‘the third heaven’ in v.2 with ‘paradise’ in v.4. The point is, he went to ‘the highest heaven’. The context is Paul countering the boasting of the false apostles in Corinth. That the discussion moves to ‘visions and revelations’ in ch.12 suggests that the false apostles were claiming a superior authority to Paul in part because of the visions and revelations they had received. Paul is dragged into a ‘foolish’ type of boasting in order to undercut their claims – you can tell that he wants to distance himself from claiming authority from these visions by the way he speaks of himself in the third person, before he reveals that the ‘man in Christ’ of v.2 is actually Paul himself.

But, even in this ‘foolish boasting’ mode, Paul establishes that the ‘visions and revelations’ that he had were of a higher order than those of the false apostles – they weren’t just ‘great revelations’, they were ‘surpassingly great revelations’ (v.7).

So, the ‘third heaven’ or ‘Paradise’, in this context, is the highest of all possible heavenly places.

Some say that the cosmology of the first century had layers. So, the first layer of heaven was the sky; the second was the place where the ‘ruler of the kingdom of the air’ dwelt (see Eph 2:2 – and Peter Bolt’s book, ‘Living With the Underworld’ for a good discussion of this); and then the 3rd heaven above that, where God dwelt with all of the heavenly beings. That is the possible source for Paul’s choice of words here.

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