Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2015

Culture, creativity and curiosity

A few things people have made that I've enjoyed in 2015.
Best Film: Mad Max Fury RoadBest novel: Wise Blood (Flannery O'Connor)Best TV series: Wayward PinesBest podcast: RadiolabBest album: Get to heaven (Everything Everything)Best 'Christian' album: There is a light (Liz Vice)Best non-fiction book: So, you've been publicly shamed (Jon Ronson)Best 'Christian' book: A Wilderness of Mirrors (Mark Meynell)Best training resource: For the life of the world (Evan Koons & friends)

Must we be beautiful people?

"You were never called to be average"Tweeted the church leader, then retweeted by others, nearly seven hundred times.

To start with, this is like loopy politicians expecting every school to get above average grades... clearly most people will be average... and half might be below average, though granted some will be above average.

And then, there's that this is not remotely Christian. Now, sure, human beings are remarkable, divine image bearers, and I'm not saying we should ignore that. We're wonderfully, uniquely made.

But, the Christian faith isn't about being a star, being beautiful, being a winner. Karma is the worldview for winners. Christ is for losers. Winners can humiliate themselves to follow Christ but it's hard for them to do that.

Christian faith is the story of the Triune God, of the Son who was sent in the fullness of the loving Spirit to utter humiliation, in becoming human, and down and down, to being executed for us.

What are the marks of…

#SorryNotSorry?

In the NY Times Bruce McCall instructs in the art of The Perfect Non-Apology Apology.
"Caught red handed... It wasn't me" pleaded the philosopher Shaggy...

1. THE FIRST KING (SAUL'S STORY)
1 Samuel 13:8-14. It's early in the reign of Israel's first king, Saul. Around 1000BC. They've rejected God by wanting a king like the nations around them. And they get Saul, an impressive figure. He's just getting started but here it all goes wrong.

2. THE TRAGIC KING (THE FALL OF SAUL)
He was the King the people wanted, but not the King they needed.
The Sin (v8-9)
The Enquiry (v10-11a)
The Excuses (v11b-12)
The Judgement (v13a)
The Sentence (v13b-14) Saul's fall begins with him waiting. His people are nervous and deserting him. The enemy is near. The prophet hasn't shown up yet. Impatient Saul takes matters into his own hands and seizes the prophet/priest office for himself, making an offering to God. And then - in perfect tragic/comic timing - Sauel turns up. &q…

When I am the hero / When Jesus is the hero

A meditation on Psalms 1-2.

When I am the hero then the Psalm tells me that I'm blessed if I read the Bible day and night and keep away from the bad guys.  When I am the hero they are the bad guys and bad will happen to them, but I am the good guy and all will be well.

When Jesus is the hero I see him typified in Israel's King who is to model trust in the LORD, to have his own copy of the Word. Jesus trusts the LORD and is the fruitful one. When Jesus is the hero we are all the bad guys. Our life like chaff.

When I am the hero they are the bad guys who conspire against the LORD and find him oppressive and restrictive... and I hope they'll get what they deserve, and tell them so. Listen you bad guys and face what's coming to you.

When Jesus is the hero, he is the one against whom sin is committed. The LORD's Anointed. As we rage against his cords of kindness. We are the bad guys who conspire against him. Where we expect heaven to be silent to human protestations, the …

Our most compelling storytellers

"Our most compelling storytellers will be those who have suffered firsthand the tragic flaws of the postmodern story and thus possess the empathy and insight necessary..." (Curtis Chang) When Curtis Chang wrote, in 2000, about postmodernism his focus was, prophetically, on the stories of a Post-Christian Society and Religious Pluralism.

I'm not sure postmodernism is quite the terminology today, but the two areas he focusses on are very relevant. He also uses the language of metanarrative which might be disputed. Chris Oldfield shares from Westphal (1982) noting that "Christianity is not a metanarrative."

Chang's Engaging Unbelief (IVP, 2000), invited the church to engage others by "entering the challenger's story... retelling the story... capturing that retold tale within the gospel metanarrative..." This "requires operating within the challengers worldview" as "fellow indwellers in the shared story" carefully reworking it …

In search of common ground

The Christian faith isn't new. It was to me in 1997, and I bought the idea from the 'charismatic movement' I found myself in that real Christianity was only really found in 1970... I probably misheard because I'd spent my childhood believing the story of progress that is quick to dismiss the primitive people who went before us in pursuit of the latest upgrade.
I need the light of those who have gone before me. "The breeze of the centuries." The Egyptian pastor Athanasius, of the 4th Century, is very helpful. He was called on to respond to his fellow Egyptian, Arius. They were part of a generation who emerged from an age of violent persecution into a time where free dialogue about faith was possible. Sixteen-hundred years later, we emerge from Christendom into a time where again few know much of the Christian faith.
Arius was keen to enter the conversation but Athanasius shows that Arius compromised his faith in pursuit of common ground. Athanasius writes:
Ari…

What Preaching Is

One of the things I love about my current job is training younger preachers. By the grace of God I've probably preached around 500 times over the past 15 years and hopefully I've learned some things along the way but I've still got plenty more to learn. And however many times you've done it, every sermon starts as a blank page...

I've particularly been helped by Marcus Honeysett, Dick Lucas and Tim Keller's approaches to preaching - to hol out Christ to people where they are. Andy Stanley's'Communicating for a change' was a gamechanger in terms of getting away from complexity to simpler sermons and better connection with people.

For all the skill and good grammar, I wonder whether preaching is more a matter of conviction than it is technicality.  There is craft to learn in good communication, in filtering how much to say, how to articulate it clearly, convincingly. And the preparation process varies. This is an art more than a science.

I'm pers…

The Life You Never Expected

Andrew and Rachel Wilson share their story in the middle of raising children with special needs.

Our own parenting journey hasn't been without its challenges over the past six years - some of which I've shared, some I've not. None of our situations are as severe as the Wilson's. In the pain and the frustration and the disappointment we've found grace we never knew we needed or could receive.

There's something amazingly reassurring and compassionate and real in the tone of Andrew and Rachel's voices and I commend this podcast to you. It's cliche to say light shines out of broken pots, but that's what I hear in their voices. I respect and have learned much from Andrew-the-theologian, Andrew-the-apologist, Andrew-the-thinker, but I'd take Andrew-the-parent any day. I'm glad Andrew is doing a PhD, that will serve people well, but so too does this story, forged in the pain of life.

The Wilson's are living 'the life [they] never expecte…

An extraordinary gift for ordinary people

[8] And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. [10] And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. [12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12 ESV)

I'm preaching in a couple of weeks time... here's a few scribbles, your interactions welcome.

Glen Scrivener notes (in a sermon on this passage which I think is excellent) that the film Prometheus is a photo-negative of the Christmas story. I'm no great fan of the Alien films (unlike my wife who loves them) but I found Ridley Scott's 2012 film to be an intriguing exploration of what it means to inter…

At the Table with Sibbes

One of my heroes of faith is Richard Sibbes. Mark Dever summarises that for Sibbes the Supper was not a means of conversion - that only by the gospel word - but rather strengthened, confirmed and assured of faith already present.
Sibbes speaks of The Lord's Supper, in Bowel's Opened: The Saint's Comfort:
God gave his Son to death, to shed his blood for my sins. What would become of the hunger-bitten, thirsty soul, that is stung by Satan and his temptations, were it not for the blood of Christ to quench our thirst, and the body of Christ given by the Father to death for sin? Were it not that the soul could think upon this, where were the comfort of the soul? All this is represented to us here in the sacrament.
 We feed on the body and blood of Christ spiritually, and are refreshed by it as our bodies are refreshed with the bread and wine. God does not feed us with empty symbols and representations, but with things themselves, that the soul which comes in faith to partake o…

Come to the Table

Part 1 – Liturgy 

Here is the traditional shape of a church service for most of church history, across the traditions... a pattern of Word and Sacraments... whereas today many evangelicals would emphasise either Word and Spirit or simply the Word.

1. The Liturgy of the Catechumens / Word 
Bible ReadingPreachingCreeds2. The Liturgy of the Sacraments / Eucharist
ConfessionEucharistSending out into God’s world Only the baptised could participate fully in the second part of this service. Catechumen’s gain access after a period of Catechesis designed to educate desire for Christ, building up to Baptism and a first Eucharist.

DISCUSS...
What would the experience of this kind of service be like? What does this include that we miss - what are we missing out on? What's missing that's normal for us?What does the two-stage service communicate about the value of Baptism and The Supper, and the church? Jonathan Edwards was fired (in part) for wanting to keep this ‘barrier’ at the Table... why …

You're invited - Jesus calls and Jesus cares (Luke 13:1-9)

You grind to a halt. Car after a car ahead of you. And you’re stuck. You were already running late. Then your phone battery dies too so you can’t call ahead. You will miss your appointment. 
What happens next? How do you feel? Do you respond it by pounding on the steering wheel?Do you rage outwardly, against yourself, other drivers, the council for the roadworker… Do you rage inwardly – especially common when you have a passenger… How did this happen? Why didn’t you charge your phone? Why me? And when you finally arrive will you ‘fess up? Will you cover up? The way we react to what happens to us shows what’s in our hearts.  Knock into me and coffee might spill from my cup. Why? On the one hand because you knocked me. But on the other hand because there was coffee in my cup. Circumstances reveal what’s in our hearts. Good days, bad days, all circumstances reveal what we’re like. [Thanks to the brilliant people at CCEF & BCUK for these senarios and observations...]

As we share experien…

Today I visited a Mosque: A faith community observed

This afternoon I volunteered as a parent on my son's trip to the local Mosque. My work flexes enough to make this possible and I was interested to encounter a different faith community in our city.

Six reflections.

1. 42 six year olds.
Respect to the teachers, teaching assistants for all they ever do. And also to the Imam and his assistant for handling that many kids and patiently fielding their questions.

2. Community.
There's a strong sense of community at the Mosque. They consider it better to pray together than alone. While the physicality of praying together seems strange to those who've never seen it before there's something beautiful in the unity.

3. Faith and cultural differences.
Kids are curious about the rituals, beliefs and languages people have. They have questions. My son found talk of God without Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be strange which was encouraging, and an opportunity to help him understand more of our faith and that which was being presented to u…

I believe in the prosperity gospel, don't you?

I don't. I mean not really. I know better but in practice... all too often I think I'm entitled to health and wealth and choice and fulfillment. And if I don't get that just watch me prickle.

When the heat of life (diagram thanks to Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp) burns down on me it's the illnes and the financial insecurity and the limitations and the boring jobs that draw from my heart frustration and annoyance and other unpleasantries.

As Lane and Tripp (and others) note - when a drink is spilled from a glass, there's water on the floor on the one hand because something knocked it, but on the other hand because it was in the glass in the first place. Nothing comes out in my words and actions that doesn't originate in my heart.

When ease drives my decisions, when safety sets the agenda, when satisfaction is required I might well be in the territory of good things but I'm off the grid when it comes to the promises of God in Christ.

He never said every little…

Two thing are necessary

We're reading through Luke and Acts at church, and in Luke 10:38-42 comes a clash between Martha and Jesus over Mary not helping out in the kitchen when Jesus' visits but instead sitting at Jesus' feet. An invitation, as my friend Joe preached recently, not to choose between busyness and contemplation, but to 'rest inwardly' on Jesus. How I need that!

Some further scribbles from my notebook...

What does Jesus talk to Mary about?
We know from chapter 10:22 that Jesus alone makes his Father known.
And given chapter 11:1-13 is an invite to speak to the Father I think we can conclude that's what Mary is hearing about. That's the necessary thing. Without this we have nothing else.

And so I need to be in the the sound of the gospel - whether as I read the Scriptures myself, as I read them with others and we apply the gospel together, under preaching, through baptism, the Lord's Supper and the prayer of the church family. By all and every means possible my dul…

To end all wars

I listened to a revisited Radiolab episode at the weekend 'Update: New Normal'. It began with the question - will we ever stop going to war? The observation offered was that a 20+ years ago we were optimistic, but now 80-90% don't think we'll ever stop. What do you think?

A century ago the first world war was thought of as 'the war to end all wars' but this has plainly not proved to be the case. Wars have increased not decreased. One nation or cause attacks others, and their allies dive in to pursue justice. Just wars are responses to unjust action. Honorable people fight on our behalf - lest we forget. I breathe a sigh of relief not to live in an age where I'm called on to fight, and give thanks for those who have fought for our freedom and for others.

Can we change? 
The Radiolab episode tells the story of a company of Baboons, granted a plentiful supply of food they appeared to become less violent. It's said that the reason there are so many wars in …

The Marmite Moment of Faith

I've come across these three observations lately on Christianity and Secularism. Food for thought.
Christianity and the University experience notes that evangelicalism, in Universities, seems to equally produce activism and drive people away in equal measure."Evangelicalism... is a destabilising influence... triggering enthusiastic activism and disillusioned withdrawal in apparently equal measure."Charles Taylor in A Secular Age says the desire to move from monastic seriousness and popular nominalism about faith to a reforming call for everyone to be serious and consistent and zealous about their faith has led to more secularism... this includes a shift from meaningful cosmos to silent universe, and the shifting of meaning from 'out there' to within me. Is nominal faith so bad? How much do I really understand of my faith? How consistent is my walk really?Steve Bruce suggests that the charismatic renewal ought to be interpreted as sucess for secularism rather than…

Knowledge of sin is a gift

One says "Church talks about sin too much. I don't like it."
Another "You don't talk about sin enough - I've been so unaware of my sin in recent months. You've failed me."
Another asks "What sin are you into at the moment?"*

Call it, as Spufford does, the HPTFTU. Call it the many names it's given in the Bible. Call it sin.

In an age ('human history') that trivialises sin, that sees it clearly in others... the knowledge of sin, my sin, is desperately needed.

The story of Old Testament Israel can serve us in seeing this.

Twice Paul asks "What advantage in being a Jew?" in Romans 3:1 and 3:10.

Firstly, much advantage - because they had the oracles of God. Paul's approach is Biblical Theology as he retells the story of Israel in Romans 1-3, how they betrayed God, how he gave them over to their sin, how his arms were wide open to receive them in repentance but they received his kindness as freedom to harden their heart…

The Exodus is good news

Chapters 1-19 God hears, remembers and saves his people from their slavery to Egypt. They're broken spirited and unable to save themselves. Their salvation doesn't overcome their slavery to sin which becomes very evident as they begin to travel in the wilderness. The serpent out there is struck down, rescue from their serpentine heart will require an even greater salvation. What is pictured here will come to pass as the Father sends his Son to bring many adopted sons to glory...  with life from the true Lamb, the true Rock, the true Bread, the true Moses...
Chapters 20-24 God comes down and meets his people at the mountain - he rescued them for himself. As rescued people he calls them to reflect him to the world. "Be holy and I am holy." How? By providing for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you who can't provide for themselves. This is what the Triune God is like. He did this for his people. Could they now walk in his footsteps? God will meet his peo…

The Gift and the Galatian Problem in my Heart

Paul writes to his friends in Galatia and in verses 1-10 offers a substantial opening to the letter.

1-5 Paul, the Galatians and his gospel
First century letters begin with the sender, then introduce the audience.

Paul is an apostle - sent by God to people with the gospel.
The gospel concerns
Jesus who gave himself for our sinsJesus whose death was to deliver us from the present evil age (whatever that might be)Jesus who was raised by his FatherThat this was the Father's will.That this is for the Father's gloryThat this is grace. Gift.6-10 An astonishing situation
Paul observes that his friends have turned from the Father who called them in Christ. They have deserted God. A desertion, forsaking, betrayal, a relational abandonment. The evangelical who looks picky about doctrine might be that, but really their goal is to ensure that we are true to God the Father of Jesus. We can be lacking in some knowledge and still be knowing the same person, poorly. But there comes a point whe…

A Wilderness of Mirrors

I received a review copy of A Wilderness of Mirrors from Mark Meynell and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

It's obvious in reading the book that Mark Meynell loves words and culture and people. It's a well written, accessible look around our world that gets under the skin of our cynical age. Mark helps us to see how the Christian faith then speaks to the issues he explores. A keen observer who, as his subtitle implies, wants us to trust again.

This video gives a feel.



One of the observations that particularly struck me was the contemporary love of conspiracy theories - because these give the opportunity to find significance in otherwise meaningless tragic events. As we suspect there is significance in life, but where to find that is important, A Wilderness of Mirrors helps us find better answers.

I've read and appreciated James Smith's How (not) to be secular and Charles Taylor's A Secular Age recently. A Wilderness of Mirrors is more accessible and more engaging.

Sharing your faith at University

Evangelism, or proselytising, sounds spooky, weird, and manipulative, and the kind thing you’d do to people you don’t like. Our society hates the idea of imposing your beliefs on others, though have you ever tried that? Like getting your flatmates to do the washing up?

A few comments to begin with.
You're not selling Jesus. I've worked in sales, it can be a dirty business though there's nothing inherently bad about selling things. But Jesus isn't a product for sale - he's a person to meet. It's different.Calling people ‘non-Christians’ is plain rude. No one self-identifies that way in our society, so it’s lazy and a power play to define others by not being like you. Christians are 1-2% of the population at best, defining people as "not us" is arrogant. And counterproductive if you want people to explore faith and change who they follow.Having a ‘mission week’ sounds colonial and oppressive. Would you want to be on the other end of someone's missio…