Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

AND FINALLY…

My wife – the unnamed hero of much of this blog’s output (Jesus being the named hero) – is getting baptised on Sunday. Having been raised a Baptist myself I have bugged her about this for years. She always said she wouldn’t do it until she could genuinely proclaim repentance, active faith and a changed life. She also thought the prospect of standing in front of a crowd and inviting people would be too terrifying. Well on Sunday she’s doing it, entirely of her own initiative. She’s scared but she very much wants to proclaim the goodness of Christ in front of friends and family, Christian and non-Christian. I hope you’ll be there Sunday to see it…God is brilliant and I’m chuffed to pieces. That’s a good way to end the blog.

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THE END OF THIS BLOG!

What a melodramatic title. It is true though. I’m quitting for now. ‘What a fickle, impulsive chap you are’ I hear you think aloud – ‘just last week you were obsessed with drumming up business for the thing’. Yes, I know… and that’s part of why I’m stopping. Here are my reasons:

  1. It was detracting from my work. You may have seen the times of these posts. They are generally during school hours. There is absolutely no doubt I have committed myself significantly less to the job I’m paid to do in favour of writing and checking this blog. That’s not good, honest nor godly.
  2. There is too much desire for self-affirmation. I know I’ve blogged on this before. However, I’m too competitive and I can’t help the drive for recognition, ‘hits’ and feedback. It means I’m often posting with the wrong motive and I can’t abide it. There are plenty of people serving a heck of a lot more sacrificially and effectively within CCB, but without e-mails to advertise the fact.
  3. As a general rule, this is not ‘doing’. I don’t know exactly what ‘doing’ looks like – but blogging is generally just ‘talking about doing’ instead of ‘doing’ it. There are some posts on here I am proud of and which God has used to help others as well as me. However, in the majority of cases, time spent blogging would be better spent doing something else. I’m finding this ever harder to justify.
  4. Whilst I have come some way in terms of a ‘theological education’ via sermons, books and my own study, I want to formalise my learning a little. Therefore, I plan next term to start taking the theology courses from Moore Seminary via correspondence, in order to give my endeavours greater discipline, soundness and a certificate! I do love to study…

 So, was it all a waste of time? No, I don’t think so. For the following reasons…

  1. It gave me a reason to think things through with a degree of accountability. Thanks to this project I now far better know my Bible-based mind on Calvinism, gender issues, movie-watching, evangelism and a great deal more besides. This is very helpful for apologetics and mentoring younger Christians.
  2. I know, more via e-mails that comments, that some people have occasionally been helped and challenged by a couple of things that came up. Being honest however, this was more true early on  – when the posts were more occasional but more borne of deep conviction and a troubled soul.
  3. This whole blog relocation was part of a drive from the start of 2009 to get my focus on God. Along with setting myself some rules, reading more and listening to a heap of sermons I have managed to wean myself off some bad habits that I’m sure still lurk, ready to reclaim me lest I ever grow complacent!

Right, so, the end of the game for now. The best posts of the 71 were probably these about sex, a stag weekend, blogging v atheists, Jade, my wife’s op, The Shack and how it’s all irrelevant compared to the cross. I do love writing and I pray God will use that willingness in some way I haven’t yet been shown. I do also love discussion, but it may be more honest done in person and via e-mail, so do feel free. Thank you for reading and God bless.

 PS There is also one quick post to go which is very important…

NEHEMIAH AND THE GOSPEL

A couple of really interesting comments on the last post regarding the necessity of ‘giving the gospel’. I will get to responding! However, I want to start with Nehemiah. I am all over that book right now. I’m reading and studying it in my quiet times and listening to Driscoll preaching on it on my journeys to work. It’s just a great book for those of us who live in the city. It’s about a standard guy who sees his city broken, lost and desolate. The journey he takes is inspiring. First, he mourns and fasts over the city. Then he prays. Then he plans. Then he DOES something about it! He humbly approaches the authorities, he figures what he needs, he builds a team, he goes to the city, he speaks to the people, he REBUILDS THE CITY! And, when determined opponents mock, scorn, distract and threaten that work, he remains steadfast, unflinching and prayerful, his people working with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other – ready to defend the fruit of their labours if called upon. Nehemiah cared for the city. He wanted to transform it and so he set about doing so as a man of action. The city is the key strategic place to begin any great work – it has the most people, the most languages and the most influence – it dictates the culture, the media output and the politics of a nation.

I am proud to live in one of the world’s greatest cities and I’m proud to be part of a network of churches that is actively seeking to impact upon it by planting and by telling the good news. There is already some family pressure for us to opt out of the city in favour of suburbia’s sanitised comfort. However, I hope I long resist such temptation – in favour of real multi-culturalism, real community and proximity to real need… perhaps raising kids less sheltered, racist and fearful than the ones I teach! It’s in the city that the battle-lines are drawn and are visible!

People in the city do need our physical help – they need love as expressed by feeding the hungry and caring for the lost. We perhaps need to get better at that – we are a little too white, middle class and intellectual to provide much of a haven for the broken people of even Balham right now. It’s something I know several who frequent this site are very keen to address through initiating hands-on weekend community work imitating the Besom or Nehemiah Projects that already run in the area (and in which they are already involved) to care for those incapable of looking after their own homes and welfare. However, more so, we must be keen to give the gospel, as that is the thing Londoners need the most. It is not enough we be ‘good people’ in the eyes of others. Yes we must live the gospel, with love, in order that our message not be undermined but be strengthened by them seeing the practical love of Jesus in us. But we MUST also tell the gospel. Explicitly. It is up to those who hear and the will of the Spirit as to whether they respond, but they can’t respond to that which they haven’t heard!

And so too with our friends. If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that we are fragile and that life can be threatened or cut short at any time. Therefore I do believe we should push a little harder than Debbie and Simon are suggesting. If our friends can hear the gospel from us within a relationship, then brilliant. However, it makes sense that they also hear it from those teachers best trained to deliver it, at events tailor-made for such a thing. For without hearing the gospel – that is Christ crucified in the place of sinful man so we may be saved through faith in him and repentance of that which grieves him – they will assume merely that Christianity is a meritocracy… a code for ‘good people’ to earn their way through the Pearly Gates. The gospel changes things. I have had one person this week tell me ‘I don’t like it’ and one tell me ‘It’s not fair’. That doesn’t happen when you’re discussing creation v evolution. Or atheism v theism. The gospel provokes, challenges and demands a response to the work of Christ. We must live the gospel, but we must also tell the gospel.

PS A note on Driscoll. Yes I listen to him a lot and I am thoroughly inspired by him. However, neither do I follow him unquestioningly. I am very wary of how much he speaks every week about himself; his life, his church and his family; it really is at least half of every sermon (you only really realise how much when listening through a series in quick succession!). Such a self-referential style I do feel carries with it the danger of fostering a personality cult, plus which his tangents can be more memorable than his exegesis of the passage. But he does love the Bible and he’s presenting it to thousands via the gifts that God has given him and that he has had the courage to employ. So yes I’m a (cautious) fan!

PLOTTING TO EVANGELISE

Sigh. Non-Christian mates. What to do with them?? As we prepare for Passion for Life, through Revive, through our small groups and through our church meetings, we each have to start plotting how we might turn up to those events with somebody on our arm. After all, having been given about a year’s preparation, it would be pretty lame not to. The problem is – our non-Christian mates don’t know that! Chances are, they’ll be as comfortable saying no to this ‘weird church event’ as they are saying no to all the others. But it’s important… it’s really important! Phil Allcock at Revive gave a great seminar suggesting, first and foremost, that our lack of evangelism is a lack of faith – if we really believed they’d be punished in Hell for all eternity, then of course we’d say something… just as we would if their house was on fire or they were heading over the edge of a cliff. We don’t. Because it might make us look silly. Which is us saying that looking silly is a worse prospect than is the burning in Hell for all eternity thing…

So what to do? Here are my primary ‘targets’, and where my thinking is at with each. I love them all dearly by the way…

Friend A: Media Guy.

He loves London culture and his freedom within it. Raised in a nominally Christian home, he is currently challenged to examine his beliefs, particularly in preparing to raise a child. Even so, he is against any kind of evangelism or profession of certainty, believing anyone’s views to be equally deserving of respect. He has read Dawkins but was not particularly convinced. Has agreed to read Keller as a counter-balance. Is very aware of the change in me over the past couple of years. Respects it but is frustrated by it too. Would really like me to get good and drunk with him and stop taking this whole ‘religion thing’ so seriously!

APPROACH: I will invite him and his wife to a Passion for Life event and they might well accept. In the meantime I’ll get him the Keller book with a view to follow-up discussion. This is a good time to be chatting this stuff through – the prospect of a baby has led to thoughtfulness and self-examination! The key is finding one-on-one time.

Friend B: Disinterested Guy.

He cannot believe that this world comes from nothing and co-incidence. Coming from an Oxbridge PHD scientist that’s exciting. However, neither can he believe there’s ‘some person in the sky we can talk to’. His firmly stated decision is to not think about it. Has pronounced himself ‘impossible to convert to either side’ and has refused to attend any church event.

APPROACH: Conversation is the key, with the aftermath to games of squash generally giving the opportunity. His stance is one likely to soften with time and life experience – realisation of our mortality must surely make us more likely to consider that which we decide ‘not to think about’ for now. The shutters may be down, but the implied theism of the opening sentence above nonetheless offers hope. He is very unlikely to attend Passion for Life so I have to get the gospel in there myself. At least he knows me well enough that he won’t find it too unexpected or bizarre when it happens. Knowing him he will good-naturedly sigh and roll his eyes…

Friend C: Embittered Guy

Whilst a very open, friendly and accepting chap, experience has made him very ‘anti-religion’. He has in adulthood escaped the cult offshoot of Christianity in which he was raised (y’know, the ones who come to your door!) and is thus reluctant to entertain the notion of returning to any version of that lie that left him so isolated and bullied as a youngster. Has since mid-teenagedom been very sexually active and would struggle with the idea of giving it up for even a week. It sounds trivial but we have to accept that, for many in the world, that prospect is a major stumbling block to even allowing themselves to consider Christianity!

APPROACH: Likes experiencing things, and may well come to a Passion for Life event if located in a pub! He will be there with a closed mind – but then I do believe in the Spirit’s ability to open it. Humanly, it’s hard to envisage.

Friend D: The ‘Prospect’

Raised in a Christian home by still-Christian parents, he knows that it was good for him and would like to raise his own kids in the same way. Is therefore willing to be convinced and is often to be found at church events. Even so, the exciting idea that he is ‘on the verge’ of being converted is just not necessarily true. In reality he doesn’t have faith, despite years of witness from friends and family, despite understanding the gospel intellectually and despite wanting to eventually lead a Christian home. For whatever reason, it’s just not happening.

APPROACH: Keep on trying… keep on being honest. And realise God is patient and so must we be. At some point however, practically speaking, he needs shaking from the comfort zone – perhaps an honest talking to from Perks or the like. Things could very easily go on this way for ever! (Neither is the comfort zone his alone. Whilst he is around I know I can always turn up to things like Passion for Life with a guest…) I’d like to imagine he’ll turn up to something come March.

Friend E: Hedonistic Guy

One problem with our society is that, whilst conversion is often more easily envisaged when people are brought low and desperate, our comfortable middle-class existence doesn’t lend itself easily to desperation! Yet this friend at times seems close to it. With an obsessive, impulsive personality, he is prone to quit job and home at any time to gallivant around the world, craving experience in ‘massage parlours’ and with strange unknown drinking partners. He throws around money and seeks to live life to the fullest. But the loneliness and self-loathing hits him at the most unexpected moments. He is clearly looking for something but is, perhaps for that very reason, is very reluctant to even discuss Christianity. Indeed, things got seriously weird for a while when I challenged him on the subject via e-mail.

APPROACH: I don’t know! I have been open. It was weird. It will be weird again if I raise it again. I know that’s not the worst thing, but I’m of no use to him if he drops out of touch. In reality, my unspoken witness is important. He does see me as different to his other mates and does view that fact positively. Ideally God will use that situation at some point – but I have to live up his estimation by not letting myself down and doing something stupid! I will invite him to a Passion for Life event, but it will be the most difficult invitation I have to extend…

Right, I could go on like this ad infinitum but tell me your thoughts… Any ideas? I do think conversation is the key and there’s no magic bullet. But I’d appreciate any new insight in any of the above cases.

REFLECTIONS ON GUEST ‘WEEK’

1. ON THE BIG ARGUMENT… Gender issues do get people in a pickle. More so than I realised. In hindsight… well I’m not someone whose views are utterly rigid – I’ve been wrong a million times before and I’ll change my mind on plenty of things yet. However, I will continue to look to the Bible for my authority, treating it as God’s relevant and sufficient word. That doesn’t mean I see it as a History textbook or Ikea instruction manual (thankfully, as then it really would be impenetrable), nor that I think context and literary styling should be disregarded in its reading. However I don’t believe we can skip bits, can evolve away from God’s word over time, nor that we can reach a point where we’re confident in disregarding it’s clearly, repeatedly stated principles and instructions. Everything’s there because it’s meant to be – ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ as the old Ishmael song says (OK he may have read 2 Timothy 3…). Above all, I fear the consequences of increasing flexibility on this issue. Major revival, whether courtesy of Luther, the Clapham Sect or Billy Graham, finds inspiration by returning to biblical truth – that which we tend to drift from over time. Gender issues are unlikely to be the thing that scuppers us, but wishy-washy Bible reading has led many away from penal substitution, from the uniqueness of Christ, from preaching Hell and judgement… without these the basic gospel message is lost. As in so many things, seriousness over the ‘little’ issues should keep the ‘big’ ones in line.

2. ON THE LOVE OF ARGUMENT… It is very easy, when discussion breaks out, for an ‘us v them’ mentality to break out, making the tone not entirely dissimilar to that employed in numerous ‘atheist vs theist’ debates online. It was thus good to finish with Simon’s post on unity. I do think the differences matter, but not as much as our shared brotherhood (or sisterhood!) in Christ. We need to get better, in our Christian chat as in our evangelism, at relating things to Christ and the gospel – that which we share if we are truly Christians. This is something I’ve been increasingly convicted of recently. Those of us nominally bracketed as ‘conservative evangelicals’ can talk and think as if we are uniquely blessed with all answers and the ‘best’ approach to everything. This runs the danger of making us Pharisees, looking down on those who can’t so well articulate doctrine or who fall the wrong side of our view on woman preachers, the Alpha course or the Pentecost; whilst overlooking the fact their lives more loudly speak of Jesus – the saviour they love and live for. Let us never be more excited by John Stott’s latest exegesis than we are by Jesus’ death on the cross…

3. ON THE RESPONSE TO THIS PROJECT… The format of this experiment has very much favoured the Monday posts. I must apologise to Brian and Simon whose contributions went up at the end of the week. Monday posts are launched with an e-mail reaching over 100 people. Many of them click the embedded link and quite a buzz is generated. However, without subscribing to the blog via a blog reading tool such as Google Reader (and only 7 people have done that!), few people are compulsively checking back (that is the preserve of he/she with a personal investment in what’s written there) in subsequent days. Thus, by Friday of each week, the hits have been a quarter of what they were four days previous, as reflected by the number of comments. Not sure what the answer is here – there is a limit to how many emails people want to receive rabbiting on about my ultimately inconsequential blog! Can I nevertheless assure those who posted that many more people have read your work than may seem the case (most readers will never post comments). There have been 1,000 hits on the blog (exactly 1,000, as I write this. Weird…) in June thus far – the vast majority of them attributable to this project. There was a wide general awareness of what had been written when our congregation got together at Revive in Portsmouth over the weekend. I hope you feel it was worth your while because I learned from each post and I’m not alone in having done so.

4. WHAT’S NEXT? I will revert to posting my own thoughts on living in the world as a man for God (ie the normal blog). However, things will go quiet in a week or two as my second job as an A Level exam marker kicks in, meaning I work almost every hour of the day and night. If I do post during that time then rebuke me; the few minutes I can spare should be spent catching up with my wife. If I’m writing on here I’m just procrastinating and putting off my responsibilities in an ungodly fashion! Following that, in another attempt to keep things interesting, I will approach a few interesting people in positions of responsibility for a planned series of interviews (digging out my student journalist past!) to post here – looking at the challenges they face, what drives them and the advice they can offer us along the way. Thanks for your support!

Guest ‘Week’ Part 6: UNITING CHURCH

And finally… Unity is not always a word that springs to mind on this website, particularly given some of the recent discussion! In the Co-Mission Initiative the question is often which will happen first – will be abandon Anglicanism or will they throw us out?? With all this in mind, it’s a privilege to end Guest ‘Week’ with an article by my brother-in-law Simon recognising the existence and importance of UNITY in the modern church. It’s not an article I could have written and I’m therefore delighted to post it and think on it. (And apparently there is Part 2 coming soon!)

A seismic change has occurred in the church in Britain over the last thirty years, in particular. You might not have noticed it. It may have crept past you. But I think it might just be the most significant work of God we have seen since the Reformation. 

Sixty years ago, if you went into a Baptist church, the preacher would probably be preaching hell, spiritual gifts had died out 200 years after Christ and adult baptism instead of infant baptism was the most important theme. Anglican churches were sprinkling water on children’s heads and spreading incense and talking about being nice to each other. Pentecostal churches were using lots of spiritual gifts and many were saying if you didn’t speak in tongues, you weren’t a true believer. In many of these churches, sermons would contain put downs to other denominations of Christianity. The vicar (or whatever) would subtly throw in a cuss to another church, “we’re not like that other church round the corner,” and Christian identity was formed not only by what you were but also by what you were not. Your identity existed yes, in Christ, but also in your denomination, what your exact doctrine was, who your pastor (or whatever) was and how you worshipped.  

I’ve spent some time in Italy and found that things, for the most part, are still like this over there, although there are some signs of change. Apart from the Catholic Church there are four main evangelical churches, with four completely opposing sets of doctrine, some of whom do not even recognise each others’ existence as Christian churches. In Siena the four churches would regularly preach against each other: the church which practised spiritual gifts was allegedly demonic; the one which didn’t was apparently missing the Holy Spirit (they might have had the other two prongs of the Godhead). The Valdeseans were “almost Catholic” (a massive insult) and the Pentecostals wore hankies on their heads so were too strict. This made it somewhat uncomfortable for me as I liked to regularly visit all four. I kept all the negative things they said about each other in a little book and made sure I never repeated them when I visited the other churches!  

The seismic shift, which I hope will spread even to Italy from our country is this: we’re losing our denominational boundaries.

It’s not complete yet, and there are still churches opposed to each other. There are still major disputes in the church. But ask yourself this… can you recognise a Baptist/Anglican/Charismatic/Methodist church any more? There are Baptist churches which practise spiritual gifts, Anglican churches that baptise, Methodist churches that preach a powerful gospel and Charismatic churches that don’t mind if you don’t speak in tongues and would actually quite like things to be done a bit more formally and efficiently!  

I frequent an Anglican church that baptises adults, believes in spiritual gifts and preaches the gospel every week from the Bible. Unthinkable even twenty years ago! (I was taught to mistrust churches with pews and spires when I became a Christian in a school hall church).

A lot of credit has to be given to the Alpha course and other cross-church initiatives which, I believe, are doing the work of God and unifying his church. A post-modern belief that knowing God is more important than knowing things about him, that loving people is more important than understanding and that there is no invalid way of worshipping God, is the packaging for the new consensus. And it seems that perhaps people are finally beginning to see that God is big enough and broad enough to meet all kinds of worshippers exactly where they are, as long as they worship with their hearts. 

Its hard to overstate the extent of this change in just a couple of decades. The rise of the non-denominational Christian is a 21st Century thing; the believer who would rather not subscribe to an exacting set of beliefs or doctrines; who would rather not be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran, but who wants to be counted as a Jesus follower, a God-botherer, a disciple no matter where he worships and serves. This Christian knows that some believers might find one day more holy that another or find some food unclean (1 Corinthians 11), but knows he has freedom in Christ to worship without those burdens.

Inside churches things are changing too: There are very few people these days, who would condemn the use of spiritual gifts and healing. At the same time, there are very few churches now who madly try to invoke the Holy Spirit every meeting and force people to speak in tongues or fall over.

The vast majority of churches follow the doctrine of adult baptism by immersion and christening kids seems to be dying out.

Most churches believe in the truth of God-inspired scripture. There seems to be an agreement across churches on all kinds of things that once divided them. Of course this is not the reality for all churches, there are still disagreements on some non-crucial aspects of the faith, such as what to do believe about homosexuality, but looking at the broader picture of what is happening across the country, its hard not to be impressed by the similarity of Christian doctrine across the country compared to sixty years ago. A new national consensus about key doctrines of faith seems to be forming. And this can only be good news, because there is only one church, one body and one baptism. We haven’t yet seen true unity across the British church, but God has done a pretty huge work in us and broken down a great number of barriers, to enable his Church to be more like what he intended it to be. The future of the Church is service.

Guest ‘Week’ 5: SERVICE IS GREATNESS

Well, it’s certainly been lively… and there is but a short while left before Guest ‘Week’ ends and you’re left with only me. However, not yet! Because here’s Tom with an honest and Bible-fired challenge to us and to himself. To serve and to value service…

First up thanks must go to Andy for the invite to guest on his blog. The only reason I have gone for it is the readership I know he has. I would be keen to have feedback from people, as this blog post is more like the start of a conversation down the pub than a grand proclamation. This doesn’t mean I haven’t thought through what I am about to say!  I am not the most logical thinker and seem to have quite a staccato writing style. It will make more sense if read alongside Mark 10 v35-45. I am not going to quote the passage throughout this post as it is not intended to be a bible exposition. 

Over the last few weeks I have been dwelling on a passage from Mark 10 v35-45. I should be open; I have used Paul Barnett’s The Servant King alongside reading the bible. I am often like James and John, there is so much that revolves around me, I want to be first! (v37) In this passage Jesus recognises this is how the world operates but not in his kingdom (v43-44).

I have recently become aware that I respect those who have served me, this has been a voluntary reaction, it is not like I have been forced by some organisational chain of command.

So what am I going to doing with this? I am working on how I measure greatness. My assessments of people, life and achievement are often done by status cues, for me personally this is not necessarily the obvious. As in we are not necessarily going to agree on what we deem cool. In fact the word cool is not exactly cool anymore (try nang). An awful lot of my life is about preserving my status, this is not necessarily just about obvious materialism if anything I can tend to be slightly inverted in this respect.

Either way I so often get suckered into a view or way of living that does not see service as great or even cool.

I am learning to be intentional in service of others and make sure it happens. This is with the church and those outside the church. I want to build up the church and not just make it all about my own spiritual development. Jesus was intentional in his service and was trying to get the disciples to understand why he was going to Jerusalem, the cross and his death. 

I remember when studying this passage in Mark in Knowing God, Chapter 10 v35-45 became my favourite passage because I understood how Jesus is my ransom, this bolstered my confidence in Christ.  I gained a fresh appreciation of how Jesus Christ has served me. It is possible to forget or abandon this as christians but Jesus serves in a way no-one else can. I have a simple prayer that I need to repeat Lord Jesus please work in me to serve others and be willing to come in last.

COMMENT: MEN AND WOMEN!

This is more of a comment than a post – it’s in response to a couple of the comment threads below. There has been some rather heated debate on here of late which, let me say, is brilliant. When I started the blog I very much wanted it to be a forum for discussion and I’m glad it’s finally happening. However, it all seems to be centred around one main issue – the way we view the role of women in the church. Two readers – Debbie (who I must also out here as the ‘Ouraged/Mollified RS Teacher’!) and Miranda – have recently declared themselves ‘offended’ and ‘outraged’ by not-entirely-feminist views expressed by Pete (suggesting men should ‘lead’ in the church community) and Phil (pertaining to women’s dress). Debbie has written that, in Christ, we are ‘redeemed’ from a ‘dominant-submissive’ relationship between men and women. Miranda has referred to Pete’s ideas of distinct roles for men and women as ‘blatant sexism’.

I think what is happening here is a reflection of something wider – a clash not so much between individuals as between different churches and interpretations of Christianity. Perhaps even of where we find our ultimate authority. I know both these Christian women and I know they strive to put Christ at the centre of their lives. Miranda was professing and modelling Christianity to my largely non-Christian group of friends back when I was modelling little more than drunkenness and a foul mouth. If she was a little quick below to assume that perceived Christian ‘fundamentalism’ links to homophobia and racism then it’s only because I know sadly that personal experience for her has borne that out. And Debbie has taken responsibility for the Christian development of so many young people over the years… indeed she was trying to organise prayer sessions among our staff at school long before I got my act together enough to attend them. These are good Christian witnesses both. However, whilst I very much respect them, I must question some of the ideas they’ve been expressing and implying here.

After all – the idea of men leading in the church community; the idea that they have a role different to that of women; is not at all the preserve of one ‘much-argued over verse in Ephesians’… it is the stuff of the Bible, over and over again. To feel ‘deeply offended’ by the implication is to feel ‘deeply offended’ by the Bible – it comes down to whether, when the Bible clashes with the world, we take one or the other as our authority. It’s about whether, when we find God’s word unpalatable, we look for the flaw in the word, or in ourselves.

It is perhaps wise to first state that the Bible implies no superiority or inequality between the sexes. He made both in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and he finds no greater favour in ‘male or female’ any more than between ‘Greek and Jew’ (Gal 3:27-28). Under Christ, the prophecy of Joel has been fulfilled meaning that Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’. Perhaps the greatest passage of equality is found in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 where we learn that ‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman’. In fact, in its day, the New Testament was revolutionary in the status it gave to women (building upon the example of Old Testament heroes such as Ruth or Esther), and in the status it gives their role – whether in testifying to Jesus’ resurrection, spreading the gospel (Priscilla in Acts) or, for example, in raising Timothy to know the word (via his mother and grandmother). However, the roles of men and women ARE different within this equality. And men do have a leadership role implying authority (not ‘dominance’) and, gasp, submission.

Just to make clear, the ‘argued-over’ passage cited earlier is Ephesians 5:22-24, saying ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ This sets out the idea that the marriage relationship reflects the authority relationship between Christ and his church. 1 Corinthians 11:3 also states that ‘I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’, further showing that the equal but ordered relationship in the Trinity is played out by relationship in marriage. We could also go to Colossians 3:18 (Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord) or to 1 Peter 3:1 (Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives) and to many others besides.

You may say this is only true of marriage but, aside from stating the obvious that church IS family, and that what happens there should not be a subversion of what we live out at home, things are again stated quite explicitly. 1 Timothy 2:12 says ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man’, as does 1 Corinthians 14:34 (‘They are not allowed to speak’ – not literally as they’ve been given permission in the same chapter to pray and prophesy… the explicit context cited is ‘submission’). Every apostle is male; eldership instructions are given to men (1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1); all biblical teachers are male. Yes the word ‘submit’ in the New Testament DOES imply authority (same word as creation submitting to Christ, congregations to leaders etc etc). Neither is this just a result of a Fall-era curse. Before that, man was created first, woman as his helper, named by man. God spoke to Adam and held Adam accountable for sin, even when first perpetuated by his wife. The curse corrupted existing roles (men to work, women to bear children etc) not changed them.

Now it must be pointed out there are two sides to this coin. If man does his job, particularly within marriage, and acts as does Christ to his church – loving sacrificially and perfectly, then submission should be a walk in the park. For him to ‘dominate’, oppress or bully would be sin indeed and would ‘hinder his prayers’ to God (1 Peter 3). Men need then to grow up and take up the gauntlet to sacrificially lead – something they are very often failing even to have a decent stab at. Personally speaking, most reading will be well aware this does not in a million years translate to my wife grovelling after me and awaiting permission to speak – the very thought is laughable. The first step of being loving is to want her to flourish and to respect the fact she generally knows better than me. But she does very much stand by biblical teaching on this matter. And she does know I have ultimate responsibility before God in getting her to heaven before myself.

Right, I hope this hasn’t offended. But if it has, don’t argue from gut reaction or worldly perspective. Show me that I’m wrong in my reading of the Bible. Because I will very much stand by God’s word. And, as a final word, just as I have vouched for the witness of our dissenters above, so I must state that Pete, the original purveyor of this ‘sexism’, has a frankly brilliant relationship with his wife which I just love to be around, such is the sparkle between them. In fact, both our pastors at CCB are married to strong, educated, professional, successful women whom they honour. This word does not limit or oppress. It gives security, freedom and a taste of kingdom living.

Guest ‘Week’ Part 4: LIVING IN THE WORLD AS A WOMAN FOR GOD

Hello again – hope you enjoyed your weekend! I am proud now to introduce our first female contributor – Lynda – who has daily dealings with ‘the world’ by virtue of her trendy media job. It’s a piece expressing considerable frustration, much of which should give us blokes pause for thought. Feel free to comment – particularly any girls who might agree!

Many of you know who I am, as I stupidly volunteered to do this and am the only one of us guest bloggers who regularly wears dresses. Despite this, I’m still going to be totally honest. Buckle up… 

At this moment in time, the word that currently sums up my experience of living in the world as a woman for God is guilt.  Guilt that I still do, think and say things, that after 12 years of Christianity, I shouldn’t.  Guilt that my ambition of being a godly woman, who can serve her church and younger sisters well, doesn’t really seem to be happening. 

I’m aware that guilt is not just a female thing, plus I don’t want this blog to be horrendously self-indulgent as I’m aware it could be. However I do believe that the struggle for perfection, the desire to please and the need to be loved and accepted by all is something that affects us girls possibly more than the boys.  

So, I have these words by J. I Packer on my fridge as a daily reminder of the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus brings: 

“There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.” (Knowing God, p. 37) 

Despite my best efforts though, guilt still has a hold over me in many areas. These are my top two. (cue Top of The Pops music…) 

Work: I’ve been blessed with an amazing job and when I started 5 years ago, I passionately knew I was there to proclaim Jesus and do His work. I relied on him for each new contract and praised His name every time I walked through the gates. However, now my job is safer and my career is taking off, the reliance on Him is less. Add to that the bad decisions I’ve made, the wrong things I say each day and how I’ve behaved at wrap parties, I sometimes fear my reputation is beyond redemption. How on earth could God use such a sinner as me, how dare I let Him down so badly.  

And, as you expected, relationships: I never used to doubt that God was faithful and would provide for my every need. And I still believe that, yet it’s getting harder. As a single girl in her mid-twenties, my ‘student’ years feel over and now everything should start to fall in to place. The house, the husband, the children. But, so far they haven’t and the temptation to figure it out without God has led to wrong decisions and heartbreak. Not to mention a complete lack of glory to Him. As a girl, the emotions and the heart speak much louder than the head and the intellect. We are crying out for the good shepherd to guide and comfort us.   

So, living in the world as a godly Christian woman? Currently I suggest you’d ask someone else. But, I am blessed with some brilliant Christian girlfriends who know my struggles well and as such know when to speak, what to pray and how to tell me off.  I know some fantastic Christian men who give me an entirely different perspective on each and every dilemma. And, Jesus has called me and set me apart, and the work that He has started in me will be brought to fruition. Eventually. 

Guest ‘Week’ Part 3: BATTLING AGAINST LIVING IN THE FLESH

Part 3 today – and I’m excited to welcome to the site Brian L Barber – an online acquaintance from the US of A! I have been most influenced by his entreaties to ‘Play the Man’ on his own site and have thus invited him to contribute here. So, read on to be convinced of the merits of bible memorisation (memorization if you’re American!). Do feel free to comment with your thoughts – I know it’s most encouraging for those who take the time to write.

Pastor John Piper was asked recently if he ever doubted the sincerity of his own devotion to Christ.  His answer was, “Yes.”  But he was also asked that if he did have doubts, how did he pray in light of those doubts and where in the scriptures did he turn during those seasons.  His answer to that part of the question was profound.  I’d encourage you to listen to his answer.  What struck me though was that Piper spoke of calling to mind specific passages of scripture FROM MEMORY to fight the doubts when they came calling.  

What is the primary conflict in the life of every Christian guy living in this world?  We think, as guys, that living the best life means living according to the flesh.  There is so much inside of us and outside of us that draws us into living according to the flesh.  Every sin we ever commit can be traced back to a single temptation to living our lives according to the flesh instead of putting our sin to death by the Spirit.  

Take a minute and try to estimate how many Bibles you have in your house.  The problem is that most of the time when we are fighting the fight of faith and we find ourselves in the midst of the battle, those Bibles are still in our house and we are not.  The Psalmist memorized God’s word because, he wrote, it kept him from sin – (Ps. 119:11 – “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”  That was the first verse I ever memorized – in the KJV if you couldn’t tell.  I learned it probably 20 years ago and I can still remember it to this day.)  

Scripture memorization has experienced a revival in me recently.  I challenged myself to memorize Romans 8 a few years ago (I only have 9 verses left).  During this time I have spent a lot of time thinking about Paul’s flow of thought in that great chapter and it has benefited me greatly in living as a Christian guy in this world.  Many times a day I have recited to myself the glorious truth that “there is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Having this text memorized has enabled me to battle against my tendency to live according to the flesh.  All of those temptations and sins we face each day are lumped into a single category in Romans 8 – living according to the flesh.  Verse 13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.  But if by the Spirit, you put the death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  

The image is that there are two ways of living your life 1) living according to the flesh, which will put you to death or 2) living according to the Spirit, which will put to death the temptation or desire to live according the flesh so that you can truly live.

Living according to the flesh, simply put, is living for something outside of the things of God and so all sin flows from living according to the flesh.  If you are living according to the flesh then, as Paul says, you are setting your mind on the things of the flesh – the essence of sin.  Paul writes in Romans 8:5-6, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

How do we put to death the temptation to live according to the flesh, the tendency to set our minds on the things of the flesh?  We set our minds on the Spirit.  And what does it mean to set our minds on the things of the Spirit?  

Paul says in Romans 8:13 that we put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit.”  It brings the picture to mind of us pulling the sword of the Spirit from its sheath and slaying the dragon that is the life of the flesh.  And the sword of the Spirit is what?  It is the word of God!  So how do we set our minds on the things of the Spirit?  We fill our minds with the thoughts of God.  We fill our minds with God’s word.

If we are going to fight this fight of faith and live as Christian guys in this world, we must hide His word in our hearts (fill our minds with His word) so that we might not sin against Him.  We must be ready to wield the sword of the Spirit – the word of God.  

Brothers, memorize scripture.  There are so many methods out there that help us do this, but let me tell you the way that worked best for me.  Take a blue pen, a green pen, and a red pen.  Then write the verse you want to memorize 5 times with each pen.  Now don’t be ridiculous – you need to do this with as few distractions as possible.  Don’t sit down to watch the ball game and think that this can be done during the commercials.  

Just set a goal for yourself – memorize a verse a week.  Surely at some point during the week you could find time to sit down with three pens to write down a verse 15 times…

You won’t make it in the battle against sin unless, by the Spirit, you are able to put to death the deeds of the body.  And I am pretty sure that all those Bibles in your house will not be so close at hand the next time you come face to face with the temptation to live according to the flesh…so have His word in your heart.