The BBC reports that blogging is losing popularity among American teenagers, while rising slightly among the over-30s. Why?
One student said teenagers had lost interest in blogging because they needed to type quickly and “people don’t find reading that fun”.
Shorter updates are in vogue, but Facebook status updates rather than Twitter tweets. The increased use of mobile technology to access the Internet has exacerbated the need for brevity.
Meanwhile, those who continue ‘long form blogging’ may find some of their activities restricted during the forthcoming UK General Election. The Register reports that in the period between the election writ being moved and the election taking place, it may prove to be illegal to use one’s blog to campaign for a particular candidate. Facebook groups supporting a candidate for a specific constituency may also be illegal. It’s all about ensuring candidates don’t find ways around the limits on election expenses. The law hasn’t been tested, and returning officers are looking into it.
“This is my friend David Lewis, whom I’ve never met before.”
Those of you who came to the recent demonstration of the Digital Hymnal may remember me using those words. David, the minister of Hutton and Shenfield Union Church, brought the equipment to show us what it could do. I knew David through Internet connections – Facebook, Twitter and his blog. But before that evening we had never met. I had seen photos of him, I knew what his work was and had some idea of his interests. But I had never actually met him.
On Advent Sunday, we think in similar terms about Jesus. We know him, but we have never met him face to face. Yet on Advent Sunday, our thoughts traditionally go not to his first coming in the Incarnation but his ‘second coming’ – although the expression ‘second coming’ is not a biblical one. The main Greek words used in the New Testament mean his ‘appearing’ or his ‘royal presence’. Right now he is hidden from us and we know him from the Scriptures, the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and what we see of his work in others and in creation, but we have not seen him. Advent Sunday is when we look forward to seeing him when he appears.
So we turn to these words in Luke 21, a chapter where Jesus addresses all sorts of world-changing events – the Resurrection, the coming fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the ‘second coming’ – or, if you prefer, ‘the appearing of his royal presence’. What does Jesus say to his followers?
Firstly, he gives his followers a sign:
‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ (Verses 25-28)
Is this a weather forecast? No. you don’t expect these verses to be followed by someone saying, “And tomorrow will be windy with scattered showers.” Rather, various Old Testament prophets referred to the ‘Day of the Lord’ having cosmic portents involving the sun, moon and stars – there are echoes here of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel.
So is it a sign of the Last Judgment? You might think so when you read about ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with great power and glory: that fits our stereotypes about Christ’s return. Except … it’s a quotation from Daniel 7, and the context is one of vindication after suffering. Which makes the more likely context here not the Second Coming but the Resurrection.
So – the Resurrection of Jesus is a sign of the Second Coming. Why? Because the Resurrection was the first evidence of God making all things new. Jesus received his resurrection body, just as others will at the End.
What does that mean for us? It means that in the Resurrection we already have the guarantee that God will renew creation and bring justice. The Resurrection is what the New Testament calls the ‘first fruits’ – it’s the harvest that happened in late Spring which reassured people the main harvest would come at the end of the summer. For us, then, the Resurrection means we know Jesus will appear again, and God will put right all that is broken and that contradicts his will. Because we are Easter people, we are also Advent people.
When I was a teenage Christian, I discovered the music of an American Christian singer called Randy Stonehill. The last song on one of his albums was called ‘Good News’. I expected a song called ‘Good News’ to be about the Cross, but it was about the Second Coming. ‘Good news, Christ is returning,’ sang Stonehill.
And now I think he was right. The coming of Christ is good news, because it means all will be well. And we believe that because we have the sign of the Resurrection. So when injustice prevails, remember Jesus is risen and will come again. When suffering overwhelms, remember Jesus is risen and is returning. This is a doctrine of hope for the Christian.
Secondly, Jesus gives his followers a parable, the story of the fig tree:
Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Verses 29-33)
I have two problems with this story: firstly I am no gardener, and secondly I don’t like figs. However, it is clear even to a garden-phobic, fig-hating person like me that there is a simple principle at work in this parable. When a tree sprouts leaves, you know what is coming: it is certain.
What does that mean for the followers of Jesus? I think it means this: the purposes of God are certain. When God sets out to accomplish his great plans for creation and for humanity, they will be fulfilled. I am not suggesting that God dictates everything and that we are mere pawns, nor do I believe that our every action is predestined. What I believe is simply this: that God has free will and we have free will, but God’s power means he has more free will than us, and he uses it to further his purposes of salvation. As the fig tree sprouts and later summer comes, so God speaks and his words do not pass away.
How do we respond to this parable? In rather similar ways to the sign of the Resurrection. We respond with hope and with humble confidence. We put our lives in the hands of the God who promises to work for good in all things with those who love him, those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
So this is a parable of hope for the disciples of Jesus. Those of us who entrust our lives into his hands and follow him know that a good outcome is promised for creation. Suffering will not render life meaningless. Evil will not prevail. Things may happen which cause our pulse rate to rise and worries to increase, but in the midst of the anxiety God offers us peace, because his Son is risen from the dead and is coming again. Be encouraged! As the communion liturgy says, ‘Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord.’ And, ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’
Thirdly and finally, Jesus gives his followers an exhortation:
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’ (Verses 34-36)
What is the essence of this exhortation? To me, it is a call to a disciplined life. ‘Be on guard,’ says Jesus. Don’t have a lifestyle of dissipation and drunkenness. ‘Be alert.’ These are the watchwords of lives with a focus, a focus on Christ, and therefore matched with a discipline to keep that focussed concentration on him and not on sin or a casual approach to life. The watching and alertness are not about working out exactly when Jesus will return, but about keeping our eyes fixed on him in our lives.
So the way to prepare for the coming of Christ is not to work out a celestial timetable, but to concentrate our efforts on doing what pleases him. We do that in contrast to a lifestyle of ‘dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life’, as Jesus puts it – which remains a very contemporary challenge.
The temptation to ‘dissipation’ or self-indulgence is all around us, but Jesus calls us to self-discipline and self-denial. The life of the world to come will not be a hairshirt one, but it will be one where joy and pleasure are based not on what I get, but on what I give. So let’s get in tune with it now.
The temptation to ‘drunkenness’ is not merely about alcohol, but about addiction to all sorts of things from drugs to food to shopping to relationships. Often our addictions mask pain in other areas of our lives, but Jesus calls us to face that pain and find healing with him. Then we can let go of damaging habits and live a life that anticipates the healing found in God’s kingdom.
As for ‘the worries of this life’, our whole consumer society is based on feeding those worries. It isn’t that Christians can’t enjoy good things, but an obsession with them is counter again to the values of God’s kingdom, where true riches are found in other things, notably the fruit of the Spirit as God renews people to be more like his Son. Those are what the Christian will chase.
So in conclusion, Advent is a time of hope for the Christian. As we recall Christ’s first coming and anticipate his appearing again, God’s action in the Resurrection gives a certainty to our hope. His purposes of love are certain and we are in his hands. That means we respond by reordering our lives according to the purposes of his kingdom, which means living distinctive lives –counter-cultural lives. May the hope of Christ’s coming give us the passion to do so.
 Tom Wright, Surprised By Hope, chapter 8.
I may have been critical of our current Labour Government again on Wednesday, but I am generally supportive of them when it comes to the NHS. Some of the recent attacks from the States (and even here) look dumb in the extreme. Can we just remind the Investor’s Business Daily that Stephen Hawking is both British and alive, for example? (Even the corrected version of the article, to which I have just linked, doesn’t fully correct all the facts and still leaves room for doubt about the role of the NHS with respect to the brilliant scientist’s health.) And as for the views of Conservative MEPs Daniel Hannan and Roger Helmer that we should abolish it because 80% of Americans get better health care, well hang on: for all the faults of the NHS (and I’ll come to some of them), a Christian has to remember not just the 80% but the 20% – that is, the poor. Oh, and twice as much GDP is spent on health care in the US than here. Who is going to campaign to double our spending, even on top of the rises under the current administration?
So it’s not surprising that Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister who ‘got down wiv da kids’ by making policy announcements on YouTube, has now sent a message of support to the Twitter campaign #welovethenhs. Of course it’s political that he does so, but – hey – I actually agree with him here. (Just as I do on his concern for the welfare of the poorest nations in the world.)
Why? For theological reasons. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. That has to be seen corporately. I have had it argued to me in the past by conservative American Christians that it is the sole preserve of the church to offer healthcare and healing to society. Yeah, right. Because that is going to cover everyone, isn’t it?
Less cynically, although I come from the Arminian theological tradition and am therefore meant to view almost everything John Calvin said with suspicion, I find value in his concept of ‘common grace’ – that the sun shines on the righteous and unrighteous, as Jesus said. Surely health and healing would be among such common blessings.
Personally, I have benefitted from the NHS. Most recently in major terms, it was the nasal surgery I had in May (a septoplasty and submucus resection, for those who like the medical swearwords). That surgery corrected a lifetime’s breathing problem. Nobody questioned me about the level of my medical cover, or whether my premiums were paid. I was simply treated. Then, a week ago, on the night before going away on holiday, I began to suffer pain in the right rib area. A phone call to NHS Direct led to advice that I should attend our nearest Accident and Emergency unit at a nearby hospital. They soon reassured me I didn’t have the feared spontaneous pneumothorax (OK, I’m showing off, that’s a collapsed lung) but had something close to a torn abdominal muscle. Triage, chest x-ray, time with a doctor, all without question, through until 2 am from dedicated professionals. Then away on holiday the next morning. First class.
No, it isn’t perfect, and I have some issues with it. The ‘postcode lottery’ is a common concern. For the uninitiated, this refers to differing policies in different areas, resulting in some people being eligible for treatment in their location but others in another area not being, perhaps due to age or general priorities.
Then there are issues of the budget being used up for causes that give me moral problems. The widespread use of abortion is the obvious one. Some uses of cosmetic surgery might be another. I could easily add othercontentious treatments to this list, and I apologise for just brief comments – however, the purpose of this paragraph is not to go into fine detail, but simply to mark up the fact that I have concerns about several significant areas.
But let’s get it straight. Supporting the NHS does not make you a Marxist, so let’s ditch that bit of ignorant propaganda that seeks to label people rather than engage with the issues. That kind of nonsense makes it sound like McCarthyism is back from the dead. Most Christians in the UK of various political and theological persuasions would concur that being in general favour of the NHS (whatever particular quibbles we have) is thoroughly consistent with Christian principles.
I was no fan of Michael Jackson. His Off The Wall album was popular with friends whose musical taste I hated. I could admire it but not love it. Although I have to admit I still turn up the radio every time the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back comes on – it has an extraordinary energy:
I first learned of his cardiac arrest via Breaking News on Twitter. Going over to the BBC News site, I saw live streaming of BBC News 24 with tickertape along the bottom of the screen saying that TMZ and then (more reliably?) the LA Times reported he was dead. From that moment on, it was unusually difficult to reload the BBC News front page – something that seems to have been a problem across the Internet.
I sincerely hope we won’t hear too much of the stand-up comics who gained laughter by cruelty towards Jackson (a.k.a. Wacko Jacko). His actions were disturbed and disturbing at times, but in a righteous world there would have been compassion for such a damaged man. The one who first came to fame in childhood never, it seems, outgrew that childhood. Abuse from his father and the pressures of extraordinary fame were all loaded on a fragile person. Time and again in ‘ordinary life’ I have encountered people who were damaged as children, and who did not deal with it. As a result, they were left as emotional children in adult bodies. It would never surprise me if that had happened on a large scale to Jackson.
Indeed, you wonder how much of the bizarre behaviour arose from the wounds inflicted by his father’s abuse. Is this why he acted inappropriately towards children and even his own son? And the quasi-messianic we-are-the-world/heal-the-world/earth-song stuff such as this infamous occasion?
Plenty of entertainers have been so cocooned they’ve lost touch, but this was the phenomenon in extremis. Had he so protected himself from possible pain that this was the result? What was he thinking – the white clothing and the crucifixion pose around seven minutes in? And what was Jarvis Cocker thinking, not only to protest (fine) but to ‘moon’ in front of small children? I might not have wanted Jackson near my kids (had I had any in 1996) but neither would I have wanted a Jarvis near them. Too many Britpop drugs, by the look of it. I can understand the criticisms of Jackson and children, but why not of Cocker, too, and not simply from Jackson fans?
No: while I’m not totally sure about the old maxim ‘Never speak ill of the dead’, I have always been moved by the fact that one of the things the early Christians did was to ensure that people had a decent burial, especially those who would not have had one. Financially, I imagine that even with the debts Jackson racked up, a ‘decent burial’ is not a problem from that angle. But from another angle it is a problem: we could all give him a decent burial by being restrained and compassionate in our comments about him at this tragic time.
I detest the policies of the BNP. ‘Scum’ might just about be the word. Believing in a God who loves all peoples, who sent his Son to bring redemption to all, a Son in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek nor any other distinction, I have no doubt that the BNP’s message is fundamentally anti-Christian. Just when I didn’t think they could be any worse, they had the gall to identify themselves with Jesus as unfair recipients of persecution in recent advertising.
So you can imagine I was as horrified as many others yesterday to read that they had won two seats in the European Parliament. It has to be one of the worst days in modern British public life. And I understand why thousands, if not millions, have raised their voices, sharing a similar horror at this outcome.
But I am worried, too, by the patronising tone of some criticism. There is a decidedly middle class lecturing slant to some of it. We presume to tell those who voted for this evil party what they should and should not do. And one thing we ought to know by now is that lecturing is an unwelcome stance in British politics. You want to harden an opponent in their beliefs? Go ahead and lecture them. Don’t bother to examine their fears, however unfounded you might consider them to be. Because unless you deal with the fears in some way, they will take upon themselves the ‘persecuted’ label that the BNP sought for itself in its propaganda.
What happens with protest votes is that they go to the most likely opponent. Working class whites do BNP; others do Green/UKIP
What can we do to listen to the fears of working class people who have been driven into the arms of the BNP by mainstream parties whom they clearly feel do not represent them? The middle classes will doubtless argue it is not fair to compare their fleeting affairs with UKIP or the Greens with the BNP, because they are more ‘moral’ parties. Is there a touch of superiority complex going on?
You certainly notice smugness in other comments on yesterday’s results. I’ve lost touch of how many Labour Party representatives put the drastic collapse in their vote just down to their supporters staying at home. Of course, they couldn’t imagine voting for anyone else, could they?
Can we set an agenda in response to yesterday that adopts a tone of humility? Is there still any chance of that in British politics? I know Gordon Brown admitted to some mistakes when he spoke to the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday evening, but even then you have to wonder whether those were the words of a master political fighter pulling every trick to hang onto his job.
Or are things less bad than I think? What say you?
The worship band has departed from the stage. In its place, a blonde American woman strides across from one side to the other, speaking to a large, adoring throng.
She punctuates her sentences with occasional words that are not in English. Maybe it’s a language I don’t know, maybe it’s tongues. Perhaps if I’d tuned in earlier, I would have gleaned some context to know which it is.
Her sermon is a daisy-chain of Bible passages and miracle stories, each time coming back to a slogan: ‘Seek his face in the secret place.’ She tells of being miraculously protected from snake poison, and being healed of MRSA in an African hospital when she had been given up for dead. She speaks of being delivered from prison. She talks of miracles similar to the feeding of the five thousand.
In the top left corner of the screen, I see the usual God TV icon, telling me where this conference is coming from. Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada. And I think, isn’t that where Todd Bentley came from? What is this? My theory is confirmed when I see the perspex pulpit. ‘Fresh Fire Ministries’, the name of the organisation Bentley was with until the tragedy of his fall last year. Anyone who has read my posts on Bentley will know that he and the whole ‘Lakeland Outpouring’ last year deeply troubled me.
But this – this is different. This is Heidi Baker. Sandwiched among the prosperity filth available on the same channel at other times, such as Matthew Ashimolowo wanting to flog me something on wealth creation, is this woman. I’ve read snippets about her before, but here she is. With her husband Rolland, she left behind southern California and also PhD research at Kings College, London to work among the poor of southern Africa. The miracles seem to have far more to do with ministry to the poor, sick and orphaned of Mozambique and neighbouring nations.
Sure, when I googled her name I found blogs that are critical of her. What I didn’t find wa any substance to the criticism. There may be and I could have missed it, but to date the most I’ve found is a kind of ‘guilty by association’ approach. She is regularly quoted at End Times Prophetic Words because she is on the same conference speaking list as a number of notorious extreme charismatic preachers. I’ve trawled through quite a few posts there where she is mentioned, but not found any specific, substantial allegations against here, whereas the site racks up all sorts of evidence against some of the others.
There are also some things on a blog called Spiritual Pathways Ministries but they are not easy to access. Click on them from Google and you are told the blog is protected. Only if you have the WordPress user name and password can you get in. You can instead click to see the cached version in Google, but it doesn’t come up with a lot. They come up with two or three allegations. One is that she has commended Todd Bentley in the past, and so lacks discernment. Maybe. Does that make her a deceiver? Not necessarily. She could have made a mistake, or she might have serious and honest grounds for Christian disagreement, rather like my friend Peter Kirk has done with me on the topic of Bentley, but we don’t unchurch each other. If you judge Bentley to be in error, the question should be whether she still endorses him. (The article predates Bentley’s fall last summer.)
The second allegation is that her husband Rolland thought a lot of the controversial Pentecostal leader William Branham, who certainly held some fundamentally heretical theological views. Rolland described him as ‘the most anointed man since Christ’, according to the blog, although they do not cite a reference to support the quotation. We would need to know more, though, to work out whether Rolland Baker is a heretic, too, or whether he has simply said something plain daft.
The third allegation is that the Bakers practise ‘soaking prayer’. Their criticism is expounded in another post that again is only accessible through the Google cache. (Why this protection?) The gist of the article goes something like this. Heidi Baker claims to have seen the greatest miracles after times of soaking prayer. Soaking prayer consists of three things that the writer finds objectionable: one, it originates in the ‘Toronto Blessing; two, it is akin to eastern mysticism, and three, proponents charge a lot of money in connection with it.
Well, I’m sorry, this is unworthy. Yes, there were some things wrong with the Toronto stuff, but plenty of people maintained a perfectly orthodox theology through it. Eastern mysticism? Not necessarily. Not all visualisation is wrong. Be careful about dismissing everything that is to do with the imagination. And the idea that it’s a money-maker – well, all I can say is, I’ve never come across that. I will not doubt the word of the writer who seems to think it does, but every single example I have known of churches practising soaking prayer there has not been a penny change hands. Heavens above, one of the Methodist churches here in my local circuit offers it once a month. My friend Stephanie the minister there is far from raking it in. Her prayer ministry leader is a woman of integrity, too. In short, the accusations against Baker on this one produce not a single shred of evidence specifically tied to her. It is all the ‘guilt by association tactic.
So there you go. I find it refreshing that here is a woman who, yes, has all the outward trappings of extreme charismatic Christianity, but who seems clearly committed to the notion that the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t to tickle the rich, but to bless the poor. Didn’t Jesus seem to think so when he quoted Isaiah 61 in Luke 4?
Of course, I could be wrong. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below. All I ask is that we pursue any discussion in a way that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit. If I am in error, show me, but without ranting. If you have contrary opinions, produce evidence with citations. And if you agree with me, please say why you do.
Over to you.
Finally tonight, one or two bits of blogging news. Firstly, I have finally deleted the old blog. It’s no use looking for http://davefaulkner.typepad.com anymore, because it doesn’t exist. Well, it probably does in Google searches, but you’ll need to read the cached version if you do. There should be no need, though: when I set up this blog last August, I imported all the old posts here. The only thing that will be missing is that since the move, and old piece I wrote about Larry Norman has continued to attract the occasional comment.
In passing, other bloggers might just be interested in this. Today, I submitted this blog to LoadedWeb. This service is a blog directory based on your geographical area. Currently they serve the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with mainland European countries to come next. Within each country, you click on your county/state/province/whatever, and then on your town. If you think you might pick up traffic through interest in where you live, it is worth investigating this service. You can also add your Twitter account.