Archive for the ‘Engaging with Issues’ Category

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.

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. 

QUICK REMINDER TO VOTE!

Next Guest post tomorrow – thanks all for getting into the spirit of things – over 100 hits a day Tues and Wed (although 70 of them probably Phil!). In the meantime just a little reminder to VOTE!!! We have all heard the quote that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing. Whilst we may be able to pick theological holes in the concept , it is very apt for today… every apathetic soul too lazy to make it to the polling station – perhaps in the name of protest – is reducing the voting pool and thus increasing the BNP’s share of the active electorate… (and you can be sure their supporters WILL be pitching up!).

So vote. There is even a pretty sound Christian party option although I more than trust anyone on here to think for themselves when it comes to who to vote for. Just do vote!! And keep reading the blog as another friend gives up their time to contribute wisely tomorrow (and at least 3 more after that!).

Guest ‘Week’ Part 2 – JUST DO SOMETHING

Part 2 now – I know I said I’d leave it longer, but there’s been a record number of hits since yesterday so I am confident Pete’s article has been well read.

And now… You know him as Phil, but he is known on this site under the inpenetrable monicker ‘Phil C’! Here he writes imploring us to, in the words of Nike, ‘Just Do It!’. As one who would far rather think/debate/write than actually act I have found it a welcome if uncomfortable challenge!

Phil C – JUST DO SOMETHING

I spent a long time writing one version of this article. I wrote over a thousand words, spent at least an hour crafting and editing them, and then deleted most of them. Instead, here is something that took much less time and crafting, and is hopefully a bit more provocative.

To explain – and at further risk of stopping you from reading this or any of the other pieces in this blog series – I worry about spending too much time talking about living for God than actually living for Him.

I love pontificating about things. It doesn’t help that I’m a journalist – I’m paid to tell people how other people are living, rather than to live myself.

Well, okay, I know that’s not quite true. The point is that I am better at talking about doing things rather than doing them. I don’t think I’m alone: there’s a Christian book just published in the US with the fantastic title Just Do Something, by a chap called Kevin DeYoung. I don’t really know what it’s about, but I wonder if that’s the answer for many of us: stop talking about living for God, and just do it.

A caveat: I’m not devaluing talking about God – whether that’s a sermon, a Bible study, or a chat among Christians in the pub. I’m talking about putting talk and discussion in the place of living out a sacrificial love that reflects God’s own love for us.

I’ve kind of given the game away there, but I’ll carry on. What’s the next step? We should do something, but what? How on earth am I to live in the world for God? Should I “just do something” like that book title says? Maybe I should go and study, or cycle across Mongolia with a bag full of tracts, presenting them to friend and Mongol alike.

That question usually leads me to lots of conversation, an essay like this, and not much action. The big questions about What To Do and How To Live distract me from the simple truth that living for God in the world is, for most of us middle-class Brits, in the little things more than the big.

What did Jesus mean when he said: “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”? He meant lots of things – go and read it, it’s in chapter nine of Luke. But notice that we are supposed to take up our cross daily.

I know it’s obvious, but living for Christ is not just about dramatic events and life-changing decisions, though it includes those things. I’ve never had to face a choice that would put me alongside the likes of Maximilian Kolbe, the priest who gave up his life to save that of a fellow inmate in a concentration camp. That doesn’t mean I’m not living for Christ; I am called to live now for Christ, whatever my situation.

Jesus says don’t just talk, but do it: take up your cross every day.

For me that means doing things that are small and varied and prickly, rather than big and momentous and obvious. They feel insignificant, hardly worth comparing to the once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus made. They are things like spending time with people who are dull, rather than interesting or attractive. Or giving up evenings to pray with someone who needs it. Or letting someone push ahead of me on the tube. Or telling someone about Jesus when we could just talk about something more neutral.

If I was lazy, I would just say it’s all about loving people in the small things we do, which unfortunately sounds like a cliche. Of course, I’m not lazy, but it’s past midnight and past Andy’s deadline, so I won’t spend much time trying to think of another way to say it. We are called to live for Christ by reflecting his love for us; and the people who can really see that in us are the people who have to clean up after us and work with us and live with us. That means that living for God in the world is about what you are doing right now, not just what you plan to do in the next five years.

So, in the spirit of action over talk, look in your diary. There will be some free evenings over the next few weeks. Give them up for people that need your friendship, whether it means food or conversation or a drink or bowling or something more interesting than I can think of right now. That is living for God in the world. And if you don’t have free time, make some. If time is the only thing you have to sacrifice, living for God in the world is a lot easier for you than it might be.

Guest ‘Week’ 1: HOW SHOULD CHRISTIAN BLOKES TREAT CHRISTIAN WOMEN?

We kick off this season of guest contributions with these thoughts from Pastor Pete from CCB – they may seem familiar as they’re adapted from a talk he gave at a Lads’ Weekend Away last year. But that makes them no less valuable! Do give your thoughts below… or the big man will be heartbroken!

How should Christian blokes treat Christian women?  We could spend weeks talking about this but here’s a starter for 10!

We should treat women as sisters

1 Timothy 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, 2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

Treat the women like sisters, in all purity.

Women at church are our sisters.  We are their brothers.  We need to treat them with all purity.  Therefore we must not mess them about, treat them shamefully.  We need to consider how we relate to the women and think how we can do that in all purity.  For the purposes of this blog I’m just talking about relationships between men and women of a similar age.  I think generally with the demographic and narrow age range of this blog (I didn’t say narrow readership!)

Now what does that look like?  I don’t have any biological sisters, but it’s not hard to consider how that relationship should work.  We should protect them, if I had a sister I would hope that I would work hard at protecting her.  Also, there is an aspect of leadership; a brother should take the lead in his relationship with his sister.  But the word purity particularly makes us consider the issue of how we treat them relationally.  Not simply sex, but the purity of our thoughts, the purity of our intentions.  What do we desire most for our sisters?

Surely, we want them to grow in faith?  Surely we want them to love Christ more?  They need us to model devotion to Christ.  They need us to encourage them to love and serve Christ more.  These are not pie in the sky unobtainable desires.  This is what will result if we strive for personal maturity in ourselves and treat the women at church as sisters.

Much of this will be the same whether or not we ourselves are married.  For the health of the church it’s important we think about how this applies to each of.  What does it look like for us to treat the women at church as sisters? 

When in bible study groups, be the first to pray.  Take the lead, it’s our role.  Make sure we prioritise attendance at church, at house group, at KG, and of course at the monthly prayer meeting.  Of course it will be good for us to do these things, but it will also help the women at church grow in their love for Christ, as they see how we are growing in maturity, they can learn from this.

We need to take the lead evangelistically.  This is an area we have not been as good as the women at.  Fabulously, our church (CCB) is not as bad as the national imbalance between men and women.  But we do have more women than men in church.  I went through the directory and we have 14 more women than men listed in there.  There are a number of factors for that, but it seems to me the women have taken the lead evangelistically.  We need to do it.  We need to take the lead and evangelise men.  This helps model the priority of evangelism, but it is also a loving thing for us to do for the women at church. 

The women in church are not stupid, they can count.  Many, most, of them want to get married.  They recognise that if things stay the same, then 14 of them won’t.  Wouldn’t it be a loving thing for us to for our sisters to work hard at evangelising single men, so that our sisters can have someone to marry?

So we need to treat the women in church with purity, they are our sisters.

Now this next bit is specifically aimed at those not married.  However, married guys need to listen too.  Why?  Because they need to encourage the single guys and also to hold them to account for the way they are treating their Christian sisters.

To have any romantic ambiguity with a girl at church is a no-no.  The constant refrain from Christian girls is for us men to “BE CLEAR”.  For a girl to think there might be a romantic possibility with you because of the way you’ve acted towards her and you’ve no intentions with that girl is mean.  It is a long way from purity. 

Now, please don’t get me wrong, please be friends with girls at church.  It’s a normal and good thing to do, they are our sisters, and it’s the most natural thing to want to be friends with them.  But, avoid spending exclusive time with a girl without explaining what is going on.

Men and women think differently, you might say; “we went for a drink she knew it was just as friends.”  Are you sure?  Generally speaking, women psycho-analyse things far more than we do.  They read into things stuff we wouldn’t even imagine could be there.  So be very clear, don’t mess the girls at church around with them speculating whether there is a chance of something more when you’ve no intention of that.  We must take the lead and be clear.

But do make friends with the girls, as an email I got said, “Our girls are brilliant!” 

But what do you do if you are keen on a girl?

Not sure.  But how about this for an idea. 

1. Pray!  Ask God to give you wisdom about whether you should go out with this girl. 

2. Ask the advice of others who you trust. 

3. Ask to meet with her and explain your desire to date her. 

Say you wish to go out with her and you do have a view to the future, you’re not asking her to marry you at this point, but you are saying you would like to see if you have a future together.  If you do not have a view of the future, DO NOT GO OUT WITH HER.  Equally it doesn’t mean you should marry her within the next few weeks, you could but it doesn’t mean you have to.

So now imagine she said yes, she would like to see where things go.  2 questions when you are going out and to keep asking.

  1. If relationship ended tomorrow could you say that you both grew as a Christian during the time you were courting?
  2. If relationship ended tomorrow could you say that you honoured her, both physically and emotionally?

If you say yes to both of these and it does end then it’s not been a failure, you’ve both grown as Christians. 

In all areas, whether we are married or single, we need to consider carefully how we are striving to treat the women at church as sisters.

But additionally, and to help us to do that:

We need to encourage each other to be men.

ESV Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

ESV Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Look at these proverbs.  We know they are true.  Let’s encourage, challenge, rebuke, and train each other to be the men at church our women need us to be.

ARGUING ABOUT IDA

Well I messed up yesterday… Minding my own business in the staff room I was accosted by my atheist Deputy Head delightedly shoving at me a print-out of Ida – the 47 million-year old lemur fossil unveiled following discovery in Germany. The look on his face suggested I should be cowed and distraught at this final blow to my superstition. He offered to help me through the ’emotional withdrawal’ I would now clearly be facing having, I presume, just seen God effectively disproved.

Now, quite why this would be the case I’m not sure. I love those big scientific discoveries that get us all excited – they make me thank God for the endless complexity and wonder of our world. I don’t purport to be an expert, but I’m certainly not a ‘young Earth’ literalist, determined to resist evolution at all costs. After all, the foremost expert I know on evolution (and a passionate defender of that theory) is a fellow CCB member – a godly woman working at the Natural History Museum. Basically, I’m open to your views, whilst remaining happily and biblically convinced that God made it, God intended it, God controls it and God sustains it.

Anyway, how did I mess up?? Well my response was hardly Grade-A apologetics. Somewhat taken aback, I stammered that I had no real problem with evolution and neither did ‘any’ other Christians I knew (surely most untrue). At which point a further colleague started assailing me about how this evolution must have been pretty quick then, to have taken place over only a few thousand years! I denied that too – at which point he smugly asked then whether I believed humans to be evolved from apes, something I’ve opposed him on before. At which point an elder Christian colleague who I greatly respect rushed over to inform me rather forcefully that ‘Well I do know a Christian who opposes evolution now’ because he was indeed one – and he found the theory to be thoroughly full of holes… at which point I stammered something entirely unintelligible. I now had someone in either ear, both finding me woolly and unconvincing, but from entirely different sides of the divide. And then the bell went and the episode finished, me having effectively denied I believed anything at all…

Now if you know me at all by now, you’ll know I can’t leave things like that. Therefore, I am going to e-mail the following to those present! It’s not the gospel, so it goes against my own advice. But at least it shows I have a mind. I actually find the gospel to be ideally launched from the inevitable follow-up point where they ask why, even if there is a God, out of all the religions in the world I’m arrogant enough to think that mine is right!

THE E-MAIL: Chaps – regarding the brief episode in the staff room yesterday where you questioned me on Ida the fossil… other than looking a bit bemused I didn’t really say much of sense in response. I’m no expert on evolution, but I do have thoughts rather more formed than I managed to articulate yesterday, so I thought I’d just jot them down. This is done off the top of my head in good old Room 25 (instead of eating lunch!) so pardon my lack of academic rigour. However, I want you to know where I’m coming from…

  1. I’m not threatened by the idea of evolution. Yes I am a Christian and I do believe, as Colossians 1 says, that ‘all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’. However I have no problem understanding the start of Genesis as poetry rather than as science textbook and, if evolution is God’s chosen method, that’s cool with me!
  2. That said, it’s clear we’re all still finding our way in terms of fleshing out the theory of evolution as all-encompassing. Micro-evolution is well established and shown. Macro-evolution in terms of the emergence of new species from others  is still rather a case of ‘the science of the gaps’, true as it may ultimately be. In terms of Ida being the ‘missing link’, it will take more than a set of fingernails on a monkey to convince me beyond doubt that we are nothing more than apes with a voicebox. Neither am I sure that every adaptation of every species IS advantageous, nor that every biological feature CAN be credibly arrived at by minute steps. Neither am I sure that evolution explains the arrival of DNA as a complete, complex and fully understood code as present as now in all from the first single-celled beings.
  3. However, even if every aspect of evolution suggested were proved to be undoubtably true, I would still see no reason to ditch God from the equation.  Things have to have a starting point, unless they are either infinite or created from nothing – this would seem to necessitate, at the very least, a creative force working outside of our laws of physics. To have the world we do if shorn of God or anything else beyond our physical realm is clearly infinitely unlikely. For the Big Bang to have produced a stable, life-supporting universe necessitates a ‘fine tuning’ of forces and reaction speeds taking us into realms of probability exclusively featuring figures of at least one in million millions. No-one can reasonably suggest it happened straight off of its own accord. Atheists must start looking at multiple universes or multiple dimensions – neither concept seeming any more likely or provable than that of a creator beyond our immediate understanding. Given infinite steps all things become conceptually plausible, but only in the same way as the famous Shakespeare-producing army of monkeys with typewriters. I like the analogy of a poker-player whom, having played 40 consecutive straight flushes, pleads for his life by claiming that ‘in an infinite universe, this was bound to happen eventually’. To summarise, the ordered, stable, observable world we live in is a more likely outcome if there is a God, than if there isn’t.
  4. To finish, I do also have problems with Darwinism as a fully-realised worldview capable of replacing God in that it provides no basis for morality, nor furnishes us with any purpose greater than survival. Christianity (to focus upon my own faith) is not continuing to spread and thrive even under persecution (I think of the millions risking their lives by attending house churches in China) not because they need an explanation for creation. They do so because it’s a way of living and relating to others that works and gives purpose (as well as the fact they happen to be convinced of its truth – certainly the case for me despite the inconvenience and occasional ridicule it entails!). It is dangerous indeed to assume we can tell people they come from nothing, go nowhere and have no purpose, then believe they will remain accountable and responsible on the basis of some inherent ‘human goodness’ borne out in neither history nor current affairs. We do each have an awareness of accountability for our actions (conscience), in addition to a sense of wonder at creation – and its by these criteria the Bible says we know the reality of God. We each know there is an absolute morality that remains right and true even if both the government and population of the day deny it. And yet we each know we fail to meet our own desired standards despite our best efforts. I don’t think this can be explained by Darwinism alone, even allowing for the ever more stretched ‘meme’ hypothesis.
  5. Right, enough I think. I find it hard to stop once I start typing… at least you know I do think about this stuff – it’s a common misconception that those of faith are scared to do so. Feel free to respond or silently deem me mental! For what it’s worth, I’m glad Ida was found – knowledge is a good thing! (hence the whole teacher gig…)