Friday, 23 April 2010

The Scripture Union Bible Reading Method

The Scripture Union Bible Reading Method is a simple, 5-step method that has been used by millions of people around the world for over 100 years. It’s a time-tested, effective way to help you get the most out of reading the Bible. Here’s how it works.

Pray
Prayer is the starting point; remember, you’re beginning a dialog. Before you read the Bible, ask God to help you understand the passage for the day. God, through the Holy Spirit, is the “author” of the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). He’s given us his written Word to communicate his eternal truth. So ask God to speak to you as you read. As the boy Samuel was taught to pray “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9), so let that be your prayerful attitude as you start your time with God.

Read
Next, read slowly and carefully through the Bible passage. Sometimes, you’ll want to read the passage more than once. You may also find it helpful to read the preceding or following passages to get the context. Take the time to read it as thoroughly as you can, expecting God to answer your prayer for understanding of his Word.

Reflect
This is a key part of the process, reflecting or meditating on what you have just read. First, ask these questions: What does this passage say? What is its main point? What does it reveal about God, or about me? What does it require of me now, in thought, word or action? These questions will help you “dig deeper” into the meaning of the passage as you study and reflect. Many people find it helpful to write their answers in a journal or notebook. Next, it helps to read the thoughts of someone else who’s studied the same passage. That’s why so many people like Scripture Union’s Bible Guides Discovery or Encounter with God , they provide helpful commentary from Christians around the world.

Apply
God gave us his Word for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Its purpose is not only to give us information about God, but, also to help us live in the proper relationship to him and others. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit can use God’s Word to shape our lives in the direction of greater godliness. That’s why this step is so important. After you’ve reflected on the meaning of the passage, ask yourself this: How can God’s Word apply to my life today; my situations at home, at work, school or church? Your goal is to use what you’ve learned to become more like Jesus. The application questions and exercises suggested in Discovery or Encounter with Go d are very helpful for this.

Pray
End your time in God’s Word as you began, in prayer. Make your discoveries from the Bible the basis of your prayer time. Ask God to help you live out and apply what you learned that day. Thank God for meeting with you and sharing his Word with you. There are other suggestions for prayer each day in the “Prayer Journal” on the inside back cover of Discovery and Encounter with God. As you can see, the Scripture Union Bible Reading Method is simple, but it’s also effective. In the worldwide Scripture Union network, we have a phrase that sums up our approach to Bible reading: Pray it in; live it out. That’s the way to make God’s Word come alive every day.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

My blog on preaching

I am an inveterate blogger - I can't help it - and I have a blog onto which I put some of my sermons and talks. They may be of use to anyone interested in preaching. Here it is, just click on it: http://onepearle.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ancient yet contemporary

As part of my daily quiet time I am reading the Book of Proverbs. My reading plan for today (21st April) includes two proverbs from the Book of Proverbs 13: 18–19 which reads:

18. “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame,
but whoever heeds correction is honoured.”
19. “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul,
but fools detest turning from evil.”

Here is what I wrote in my ‘diary’ as I pondered this ancient wisdom:

“It is discipline—having a daily quiet time (prayer and Bible reading) and regular weekly worship—that enables us to receive all that God has for us and to be the greatest use to God. Conversely, to ignore some form of spiritual discipline in our lives is to put us in a place where God can’t get through and communicate to us, or use us in any way for His greater glory. He has a plan for each of our lives but a lack of self-discipline and a lazy spirit has led us and many a Christian to spiritual ‘poverty’ causing us a deep sense of ‘shame’ and remorse. This is why, I believe, so many Christians are out of sorts and lack any sense of peace and contentment. They live under a cloud—of their own making—and wonder why God seems so far away from them and their prayers. The busyness of their lives has caused them to compromise their time with God and they are drifting dangerously. But there is hope. We are to “turn from evil” i.e. turn back to God in repentance and faith and experience again “a longing fulfilled” which we are told is “sweet to the soul”. What is that longing? It is the longing God places into the hearts of all those who take time out of their busy schedules and spend time with Him.”

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Bible is its own evangelist

"The Bible is its own evangelist. I came to faith because I was deeply affected by the words of the Bible. The famous British preacher Charles Spurgeon was once asked how he responded to criticisms of the Bible. "Very easy," he responded. "I defend the Bible the same way I defend a lion. I simply let it out of its cage." That quote captures our vision for this book and for the growth of ministries that are committed to the passionate, articulate, and powerful reading of Scripture. Isn't it time to let the Bible out of the cage, or (to borrow from the title of this book) to unleash God's Word?

When I tell a Bible story, I have a quiet confidence that God is going to do a mighty work by the very act of reading his Word. Therefore, my objective is to engage hearers and draw them into the Word of God. My role is to use my skills and abilities, as best I can, to draw them into an experience with the Word."
from Max McLean: Unleashing His Word

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Time to stand up for your faith

The following is from the Westminister 2010 declaration of Christian Conscience which encourages Christians to sign a petition to make the politicians sit up and take notice of our collective voice, especially on matters of Christian conscience. Have a read and please visit the website and sign up. Make your voice heard.

WE BELIEVE
that protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society.

WE INVITE
Christians of all denominations who subscribe to the historic Christian faith to sign the Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience.

WE CALL
upon all parliamentary candidates to pledge that they will 'respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’.

OUR BELIEFS AND VALUES
As Christians we reaffirm historic belief in God the Father (who created us and gave us the blueprint for our lives together); in God the Son Jesus Christ our Saviour (accepting his incarnation, teaching, claims, miracles, death, resurrection and return in judgment); and in God the Holy Spirit (who lives within us, guides us and gives us strength). We commit ourselves to worship, honour and obey God.

As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.

Human life
We believe that being made in the image of God, all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable. We will support, protect, and be advocates for such people – including children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies. We pledge to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end and we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life. We will support those who take the same stand.

Marriage
We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage. We commit ourselves to continue affirming what we believe as Christians about sexual morality, marriage, and the family.

Conscience
We count it a special privilege to live in a democratic society where all citizens have the right to participate in the political process. We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair, particularly in protecting vulnerable people. We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities. We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.
Commitment

We call upon all those in UK positions of leadership, responsibility and influence to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold these beliefs and to act according to Christian conscience.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Homosexuality and Natural Law

On the face of it, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the government should stay out of people's bedrooms seems reasonable enough. Had law evolved "ex nihilo"—from nothing—then indeed why not strike down Texas' ban on private consensual sex between adults of the same gender?
But until now there seemed to have been a consensus among societies with monotheistic traditions that all civil law was rooted in natural law, which is written upon created order and, as the apostle Paul put it, "graven on the heart of man."

Natural law is God's witness even to societies, which do not acknowledge him. Since time immemorial most healthy cultures have shared a belief that it is wrong to murder, steal, lie, commit adultery—and commit certain sexual acts considered deviate. This is not to say that for every violation of natural law, including homosexual behavior, people should be locked up or fined; if this were so, more straight than same-sex couples would find themselves behind bars, simply because the former outnumber the latter. Much of what is against natural law is thankfully no longer punishable.

However, much as we may agree on this, the Supreme Court has taken matters considerably further. "The court system legalizes the departure from natural law," warns the Rev. Gerald E. Murray, a Catholic priest and canon lawyer in New York. "The Supreme Court reads the current liberal agenda as if it were incorporated into the Constitution by those who wrote it. And with that the court is engaging in a major falsehood."

Of course, it is open to debate to "what extent civil law must follow natural law," allows the Rev. Gerald R. McDermott, an evangelical Episcopal priest and professor of religion and philosophy. Yet the Texas case has probably brought the United States closer to same-sex marriage, and that will have more egregious consequences, according to McDermott.

"Once marriage between homosexuals is legal, it will redefine the marriage between man and woman, which will then no longer be seen as a union marked by a life-time faithfulness to one partner, and not as a union open to procreation," he says.

"When both sexes are abandoned," thundered the 6th-century church father St. Cyprian, "this is clear proof of the ultimate corruption." By this the former bishop of Toulon in France meant the corruption of man's status as God's image, and image complete only by the union of husband and wife.

More than 14 centuries later another Frenchman, Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche movement that fosters community life with people with developmental disabilities, described marriage as God's icon; it follows that seen from this perspective homosexuality is an idol because it does not point to the interdependence between husband and wife.

Murray raises another point: "On what grounds can we now declare prostitution, incest or polygamy illegal? At a recent international conference on human sexuality, Christl Vonholdt, a pediatrician and president of the German Institute for Youth and Society, warned of the many dangers inherent in a Canadian-style acceptance of same-sex marriage, a move that would further damage the public's perception of natural law. She pointed to the danger of a total annihilation of societal gender norms, a dearth of births, a deepening of the sexual confusion among the young, and disastrous medical and psychological reverberations. According to Vonholdt, 66 percent of all homosexuals die of diseases related to their sexual preference.

Equally troubling is another prospect that is already well under way in Western Europe and Canada—the public marginalization of religions traditionalists as immoral and un-Christian. This may well bring the new, zeitgeist-oriented reading of the Constitution on one issue in conflict with another unshakeable right—the right to freedom of religion. All this ties in with a discovery Oxford anthropologist J.D. Unwin made as long ago as 1934 in his study, Sex and Culture (Oxford University Press).

Having researched more than 80 cultures past and present on this subject, Unwin discovered that societies, which do not impose some restraint on their sexual behaviour, cease to develop significant social energies after only one generation. Conversely, when social regulations forbid indiscriminate satisfaction of sexual impulses, the emotional conflict is expressed in another way. In other words, civilizations are built upon sacrifices in the gratification of innate desires.

That, too, appears to be a phenomenon linked to natural law, which according to St. Thomas Aquinas can be blotted out from men's hearts, not as a general principle but "in the case of a particular action … on account of concupiscence (desire) or some other passion." As the highest authority on civil law, the Supreme Court and similar secular institutions of the Western world were in a sense also guardians of natural law to which they owe their very existence, at least as seen from the theological perspective.

This has nothing to do with imposing any particular religion on the secular state. Until relatively recently non-Christians supported the tenets of what believers call natural law because they held society together, preventing bloody chaos.

It appears that the Supreme Court, kowtowing to ideological agendas, has steadily moved toward an abandonment of this guardianship, starting with Roe v. Wade in 1973. So then, who nurtures this gift that is written upon our hearts? There's nobody left but the Church.
What does this mean for churches that are themselves moving toward blessing same-sex unions and ordaining active homosexuals as pastors, priests and—as will probably soon be the case in England and New Hampshire—bishops. Whose job should it be to keep order?

Well, not those churches. With their shenanigans they are shrivelling into oblivion, anyway. But there are other, faithful churches whose finest hour may be near now that even the Supreme Court seems to have succumbed to a fad. Not that these faithful denominations (and confessional groups within the mainline churches) should usurp the functions of the secular state in upholding natural law.

It will be sufficient if they reassure the majority of the people in what most know already—that a natural law is written upon the created order and their own hearts. In the context of the present sexuality debate, that law very much includes an insight best formulated 1,600 years ago by the British Bible scholar Pelagius: "Once lust is unbridled it knows no limits. In the order of nature those who forgot God did not understand themselves either."
Uwe Siemon-Netto is religion editor for United Press International.

Nick Vujicic

The following video is an interview with Nick Vujicic who was born without arms or legs. But with God's help he is an inspiration to thousands as someone who has, in his weakness, discovered God's strength.

Blaise Pascal

"Who needs God? Man can make it on his own." So claimed Reason, the philosophy that captured the imagination of seventeenth-century France. Its champions, Voltaire and Descartes, among others, tried to fashion a worldview ruled completely by reason.

French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal, though raised in the heyday of Enlightenment thought, found reason inadequate: "Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it." He concluded, "The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know at all"—a statement that soon became the chief critique of rationalism and the starting point for a defense of the Christian faith that still influences people today.

Pascal's mother died when he was 3, and his father moved the family from Clermont-Ferrand, France, to Paris, where he homeschooled Blaise and his sister. By age 10, Pascal was doing original experiments in mathematics and physical science. To help his father, who was a tax collector, he invented the first calculating device (some call it the first "computer"). With this last invention, he had made a name for himself (at age 19!) and began his richly diverse scientific career. He tested the theories of Galileo and Torricelli (who discovered the principles of the barometer), culminating in his famous law of hydraulics, which states that pressure on the surface of a fluid is transmitted equally to every point in a fluid. He added important papers on the vacuum, on the weight and density of air, and the arithmetic triangle. He developed the theory of probability, which is still used today. He invented the syringe, the hydraulic lift, and is credited with inventing the wristwatch and mapping out the first bus route in Paris. It is said Pascal was embarrassed by his multiple talents.

All the while, Pascal was exploring the spiritual world, which was undergoing a revolution across Europe. While pietism flourished in Germany, and Wesleyan holiness spread through England, Catholic France was feeling the effects of Jansenism—a form of Augustinianism that taught predestination and divine grace, rather than good works, as vital for salvation.

In 1646 Pascal came in contact with Jansenism and introduced it to his sister, Jacqueline, who eventually entered the convent of Port-Royal, a centre of Jansenism. Pascal, however, continued to struggle spiritually: he wrestled with the dichotomy between the world and God. Then on November 23, 1654, Pascal experienced a "definitive conversion" during a vision of the crucifixion:

"From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve … FIRE … God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace."

He recorded the experience (called the "Mémorial") on a piece of parchment, which he carried with him the rest of his life, sewed inside his coat. He began a life-long association with Port-Royal—though he, unlike his sister, never became a "solitaire."

His greatest works are not only masterpieces of French prose but sterling defences of the Christian faith.

Les Provinciales, 18 essays regarded as brilliant irony and satire, attacked the Jesuits and defended Jansenists' demand for a return to morality and Augustine's belief in divine grace. The Catholic Church placed Les Provinciales on the Index, condemning it but failing to quell the controversy it stirred.

Pensées, a collection of Pascal's "thoughts" he intended to present as a Christian apology, was published after his death. In it, he portrayed humankind as suspended between wretchedness and happiness, and helpless without God. People try to avoid the abyss by engaging in distractions. Pascal denounced the idea that reason and science alone can lead a person to God. Only by experiencing Christ can people know God.

Belief comes through the "heart," which for Pascal was not merely feelings and sentiment but the intuition that understands without having to use reason. And God's grace makes it happen: "Do not be surprised at the sight of simple people who believe without argument. God makes them love him and hate themselves. He inclines their hearts to believe. We shall never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith unless God touches our hearts; and we shall believe as soon as he does so."

In the Pensées, Pascal also presents his famous argument for faith: the wager. Since reason cannot give one absolute certainty, he argued, every person must risk belief in something. When it comes to the Christian faith, he said, a wise person will gamble on it because, "If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing."

Voltaire and other scholars denounced Pascal as a cheerless fanatic. Cheerless or not, he did live most of his life with a frail body, and his many illnesses finally took their toll at age 39.

Incredible Christian - by A.W.Tozer

The current effort of so many religious leaders to harmonize Christianity with science, philosophy and every natural and reasonable thing is, I believe, the result of failure to understand Christianity and, judging from what I have heard and read, failure to understand science and philosophy as well.

At the heart of the Christian system lies the cross of Christ with its divine paradox. The power of Christianity appears in its antipathy toward, never in its agreement with, the ways of fallen men. The truth of the cross is revealed in its contradictions. The witness of the church is most effective when she declares rather than explains, for the gospel is addressed not to reason but to faith. What can be proved requires no faith to accept. Faith rests upon the character of God, not upon the demonstrations of laboratory or logic.

The cross stands in bold opposition to the natural man. Its philosophy runs contrary to the processes of the unregenerate mind, so that Paul could say bluntly that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. To try to find a common ground between the message of the cross and man's fallen reason is to try the impossible, and if persisted in must result in an impaired reason, a meaningless cross and a powerless Christianity.

But let us bring the whole matter down from the uplands of theory and simply observe the true Christian as he puts into practice the teachings of Christ and His apostles. Note the contradictions:
The Christian believes that in Christ he has died, yet he is more alive than before and he fully expects to live forever. He walks on earth while seated in heaven and though born on earth he finds that after his conversion he is not at home here. Like the nighthawk, which in the air is the essence of grace and beauty but on the ground is awkward and ugly, so the Christian appears at his best in the heavenly places but does not fit well into the ways of the very society into which he was born.

The Christian soon learns that if he would be victorious as a son of heaven among men on earth he must not follow the common pattern of mankind, but rather the contrary. That he may be safe he puts himself in jeopardy; he loses his life to save it and is in danger of losing it if he attempts to preserve it. He goes down to get up. If he refuses to go down he is already down, but when he starts down he is on his way up.

He is strongest when he is weakest and weakest when he is strong. Though poor he has the power to make others rich, but when he becomes rich his ability to enrich others vanishes. He has most after he has given most away and has least when he possesses most.

He may be and often is highest when he feels lowest and most sinless when he is most conscious of sin. He is wisest when he knows that he knows not and knows least when he has acquired the greatest amount of knowledge. He sometimes does most by doing nothing and goes furthest when standing still. In heaviness he manages to rejoice and keeps his heart glad even in sorrow.
The paradoxical character of the Christian is revealed constantly. For instance, he believes that he is saved now, nevertheless he expects to be saved later and looks forward joyfully to future salvation. He fears God but is not afraid of Him. In God's presence he feels overwhelmed and undone, yet there is nowhere he would rather be than in that presence. He knows that he has been cleansed from his sin, yet he is painfully conscious that in his flesh dwells no good thing.
He loves supremely One whom he has never seen, and though himself poor and lowly he talks familiarly with One who is King of all kings and Lord of all lords, and is aware of no incongruity in so doing. He feels that he is in his own right altogether less than nothing, yet he believes without question that he is the apple of God's eye and that for him the Eternal Son became flesh and died on the cross of shame.

The Christian is a citizen of heaven and to that sacred citizenship he acknowledges first allegiance; yet he may love his earthly country with that intensity of devotion that caused John Knox to pray "O God, give me Scotland or I die."

He cheerfully expects before long to enter that bright world above, but he is in no hurry to leave this world and is quite willing to await the summons of his Heavenly Father. And he is unable to understand why the critical unbeliever should condemn him for this; it all seems so natural and right in the circumstances that he sees nothing inconsistent about it.

The cross-carrying Christian, furthermore, is both a confirmed pessimist and an optimist the like of which is to be found nowhere else on earth.

When he looks at the cross he is a pessimist, for he knows that the same judgment that fell on the Lord of glory condemns in that one act all nature and all the world of men. He rejects every human hope out of Christ because he knows that man's noblest effort is only dust building on dust.

Yet he is calmly, restfully optimistic. If the cross condemns the world the resurrection of Christ guarantees the ultimate triumph of good throughout the universe. Through Christ all will be well at last and the Christian waits the consummation. Incredible Christian!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Nothing new under the sun

"It is one of the curious phenomena of modern times that it is considered perfectly respectable to be abysmally ignorant of the Christian Faith. Men and women who would be deeply ashamed of having their ignorance exposed in matters of poetry, music, ballet or painting, for example, are not in the least perturbed to be found ignorant of the New Testament. Indeed it is perfectly obvious from the remarks let slip on the radio by intellectuals, and from their own writings, that apart from half-remembered scraps left over from childhood's memory they have no knowledge of the New Testament at all. Very very rarely does a man or woman give honest intelligent adult attention to the writing of the New Testament and then decide that Jesus was merely a misguided man. Even less frequently will it conclude that the whole Christian religion is founded upon a myth. The plain fact is not that men have given the New Testament their serious attention and found it spurious, but that they have never given it their serious attention at all."
J.B Phillips preface to "The young church in action" written in 1955

J.B.Phillips on the early church

“It is impossible to spend several months in close study of the remarkable short book, conventionally known as the Acts of the Apostles, without being profoundly stirred and to be honest, disturbed. The reader is stirred because he is seeing Christianity, the real thing, in action for the first time in human history. The newborn church, as vulnerable as any human child, having neither money, influence nor power in the ordinary sense, is setting forth joyfully and courageously to win the pagan world for God through Christ. The young Church, like all young creatures, is appealing in its simplicty and single-heartedness. Here we are seeing the Church in its first youth, valiant and unspoiled -- a body of ordinary men and women joined in an unconquerable fellowship never before seen on this earth.

Yet we cannot help feeling disturbed as well as moved, for this surely is the Church as it was meant to be. It is vigrorous and flexible, for these are the days before it ever became fat and short of breath through prosperity or muscle-bound by over-organisation. These men did not make "acts of faith," they believed, they did not "say their prayers," they really prayed. They did not hold conferences on psychosomatic medicine, they simply healed the sick. But if they were uncomplicated and naive by modern standards we have ruefully to admit that they were open on the God-ward side in a way that is almost unknown today.

No one can read this book without being convinced that there is Someone here at work besides mere human beings. Perhaps because in their very simplicity, perhaps because of their readiness to believe, to obey, to give, to suffer, and if need be to die, the Spirit of God found what surely He must always be seeking - a fellowship of men and women so united in love and faith that He can work in them and through them with the minimum of let or hindrance. Consequently it is a matter of sober historical fact that never before has any small body of ordinary people so moved the world that their enemies could say, with tears of rage in their eyes, that these men "have turned the world upside down"! (Acts 17:6)
J.B.Phillips: Preface to "The Young Church in Action"

Saturday, 10 April 2010

N.T.Wright on homosexuality

The following video is Bishop N.T.Wright's very lucid take on the homosexuality debate raging in the Church at the moment.

John Stott's last Keswick message 2

John Stott's last Keswick message 1

John Stott conversion story

Stott was born in London to Sir Arnold and Emily Stott. Sir Arnold Stott was a leading physician at Harley Street and an agnostic, while his wife was a Lutheran church-goer who attended the nearby Church of England church, All Souls, Langham Place. Stott was sent to boarding school at eight years old — initially prep school at Oakley Hall. In 1935, he went on to Rugby School.

While at Rugby School in 1938, John heard Rev. Eric Nash ('Bash') deliver a sermon entitled, What Then Shall I Do with Jesus, Who Is Called the Christ? After this talk, Bash pointed John to Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Stott later described the impact this verse had upon him as follows:

"Here, then, is the crucial question which we have been leading up to. Have we ever opened our door to Christ? Have we ever invited him in? This was exactly the question which I needed to have put to me. For, intellectually speaking, I had believed in Jesus all my life, on the other side of the door. I had regularly struggled to say my prayers through the key-hole. I had even pushed pennies under the door in a vain attempt to pacify him. I had been baptized, yes and confirmed as well. I went to church, read my Bible, had high ideals, and tried to be good and do good. But all the time, often without realising it, I was holding Christ at arm's length, and keeping him outside. I knew that to open the door might have momentous consequences. I am profoundly grateful to him for enabling me to open the door. Looking back now over more than fifty years, I realise that that simple step has changed the entire direction, course and quality of my life.

Stott was mentored by Bash, who wrote a weekly letter to him, advising him on how to develop and grow in his Christian life, as well as practicalities such as leading the Christian Union at his school.

Stott studied modern languages at Trinity College, Cambridge where he graduated with a double first in French and Theology. At university, he was active in the Cambridge inter-collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), where the executive committee that ran it considered him too invaluable a person to be asked to commit his time by joining the executive committee.

After this, he transferred to Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge, so he could become ordained as an Anglican clergyman.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Salvation - the real thing

The following is an excerpt from John Stott's excellent book "Christ the Controversialist" and decribes teh difference between a luke warm 'believer' and the real article. It certainly challenged me.

"The biblical way of salvation is clear. As with the Pharisee and the publican, as with Saul and Paul, so too with us: God accepts us sinners not because of any work or supposed merit of our own, but because of His own mercy, on the ground of Christ's finished work in which by grace we put our trust.

John Berridge, the eighteenth-century Vicar of Everton in Bedfordshire, is a good and more modern example of the same continuing alternative. In his book Christian World Unmasked, a dialogue between two imaginary characters about the way of salvation, he writes this: "Once I wnet to Jesus as a coxcomb ("a conceited swaggering fop" - Penguin English Dictionary), and gave myself fine airs, fancying, if He were something, so was I; if He had merit, so had I. I used Him as a healthy man will use a walking-staff - lean an ounce upon it, and vapour with it in the air. But now He is my whole crutch; no foot can stir a step without Him. He is my all, as He ought to be if He will become my Saviour, and bids me cast all my care on Him.'

John Berridge also wrote his own epitaph for his own gravestone. It describes the main stages of his spiritual pilgrimage. It reads:

Here lie
the earthly remains of
JOHN BERRIDGE,
late vicar of Everton,
and an itinerant servant of Jesus Christ,
who loved his master and his work,
and after running on his errands many years
was called to wait on him above.

READER,
Art thou born again?
No salvation without new birth!
I was born in sin, February 1716.
Remained ignorant of my fallen state till 1730.
Lived proudly on faith and works for salvation till 1754.
Was admitted to Everton Vicarage, 1755.
Fell asleep in Christ, JAnuary 22, 1793.

John Stott adds: "Quaint, even a trifle eccentric, John Berridge's testimony may seem, but his theology and his experience shold be shared by every Christian believer. Jesus Christ, the sinbearing Saviour, must be the only 'crutch' on which we also lean, the only 'refuge' to which we flee."
"Christ the Conrtoversialist pages 122-123


Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Paths to power

The following is an excerpt from A.W.Tozer's book "Paths to Power". Reading it you would be excused for thinking that it was a contemporary critique of Church and society in Britain and the West at the beginning of the 21st century. It was however written over 50 years ago. Prophetic words from a modern prophet:

"...the Church began in power, moved in power, and moved just as long as she had power. When she no longer had power she dug in for safety and sought to conserve her gains. But her blessings were like the manna: when they tried to keep it overnight it bred worms and stank. So we have had monasticism, scholasticism, institutionalism; they have all been indicative of the same thing: absence of spiritual power. In Church history every return to New Testament power has marked a new advance somewhere, a fresh proclamation of the gospel, an upsurge of missionary zeal; and every diminution of power has seen the rise of some new mechanism of conservation and defense.

If this analysis is reasonably correct, then we are today in a state of very low spiritual energy: for it cannot be denied that the modern Church has dug in up to her ears and is struggling desperately to defend the little ground she holds. She lacks the spiritual insight to know that her best defense is an offense, and she is too languid to put the knowledge into effect is she had it.

If we are to advance we must have power. Paganism is slowly closing in on the Church, and her only response is an occasional "drive" for one thing or another - usually money - or a noisy but timid campaign to improve the morals of the movies. Such activities amount to little more than a slight twitching of teh muscles of a drowsy giant too sleepy to care. These efforts sometimes reach the headlines, but they accomplish little that is lasting, and are soon forgotten, The Church must have power; she must become formidable, a moral force to be reckoned with , if she would regain her lost position of spiritual ascendancy and make her message the revolutionizing, conquering thing it once was. "

A.W.Tozer: Paths to Power p8-9

Discipleship

Discipleship
The Archbishop of York in his inaugural address asks the critical question of our time; Who is Jesus and what does he mean for those who put their trust in him?

Victor Hugo said that, "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world: and that is, an idea whose time has come". Corporate-discipleship: fraternal-belonging was Jesus' big idea, and plan for the renewal of society; a catalyst and engine for building God's Kingdom. His idea, which has lasted over the centuries, was simply this: a mixed community of sinners called to be saints, a divine society where the risen Christ in the midst of it is grace and truth, and the Holy Spirit is at work within it.

An inclusive and generous friendship, where each person is affirmed as of infinite worth, dignity and influence. A community of love, overflowing in gratitude and wholehearted surrender, because it participates in the life of God.

This corporate-discipleship, we call the Church, worships God and infects the world with righteousness

Being a Disciple
Canon David Watson, who was Vicar of St Michael-le-Belfry in York, said twenty-four years ago:

"Christians in the West, have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The vast majority of Western Christians are church-members, pew-fillers, hymn-singers, sermon-tasters, Bible-readers, even born-again believers or Spirit-filled Charismatics – and we have got some those here this morning - but aren't true disciples of Jesus Christ. If we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the Church in the West would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering."

This is no idle claim. It happened in the first century when a tiny handful of timid disciples began, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the greatest spiritual revolution the world has ever known. Even the mighty Roman Empire yielded, within three centuries, to the power of the Good News of God in Christ.
"Corporate-discipleship: fraternal-belonging was Jesus' big idea, and plan for the renewal of society; a catalyst and engine for building God's Kingdom."

The Scandal and Glory of The Church
It's a scandal of the Church in England that in the past decades it has tried everything except to stick to Jesus' plan for the world: Corporate -discipleship: fraternal-belonging.

Che Guevara once said, "If our revolution isn't aimed at changing people then I'm not interested." The trouble with virtually all forms of revolution and modernising strategies is that they change everything – except the human heart.

And until that is changed corporately, nothing is significantly different in the long run.

The scandal of the church is that the Christ-event is no longer life-changing, it has become life-enhancing. We've lost the power and joy that makes real disciples, and we've become consumers of religion and not disciples of Jesus Christ.

You see, the call to corporate discipleship is a call to God's promised glory. For Christ did for us that which we couldn't do for ourselves.

God's acceptance of us just as we are, enables us to overcome our alienation and to experience the joy and the fulfilment of personal communion with God.

The Transforming Power of Christ

Through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there came into the world a new power that transforms human character and human communities; and liberates us from anxiety, fear, meaninglessness, transience, evil, ignorance, guilt and shame. Created humanity, in need of salvation, must realise that the culture and institutions they create are also in need of redemption, not simply of modernising.

God's Good News isn't for the chosen few: it is for everyone, whether they hear it or whether they don't; and I shall regard it as the first priority of my ministry, as a 'Watchman for the North', to take a lead by preaching, by public address and by informal discussion, in sharing this Good News of God with the people of England.

For me, the vital issue facing the Church in England and the nation, is the loss of this country's long tradition of Christian wisdom which brought to birth the English nation: the loss of wonder and amazement that Jesus Christ has authority over every aspect of our lives and our nation.

There is nothing more needed by humanity today than the recovery of a sense of 'beyond-ness' in the whole of life to revive the spring of wonder and adoration.

So the call is to live and be good news to everyone. It would be fantastic if people not only said of Jesus Christ, "What sort of man is this?" but said of us, his followers, "What sort of people are they? Their gracious actions, and the language on their lips is of God's goodness and love. Let us get to know them. There is something extraordinarily normal and wonderful about them."

A Vision for England
As a 10-year-old it was Christians like that who created in me a thirst for Christ, the living water. 'I stooped down and drank, new life flooded my whole being'. Forty-six years later, I am still amazed by God's constant love and forgiveness.

For the Church in England must once again be a beacon by which the people of England can orient themselves in an unknown ocean by offering them the Good News of God in Christ in practical and relevant way to their daily lives. Having shed an empire and lost a missionary zeal, has this great nation, and mother of parliamentary democracy, also lost a noble vision for the future?

We are getting richer and richer as a nation, but less and less happy. The Church in England must rediscover her self-confidence and self-esteem that united and energised the English people those many centuries ago when the disparate fighting groups embraced the Gospel.

The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History tells not only of how the English were converted, but how that corporate-discipleship, the Church, played a major socialising and civilising role by uniting the English and conferring nationhood on them.

The history of the See - or Diocese - of York tells a wonderful story of York's part in the conversion and civilisation of the English. In 627 Paulinus converts the King of Northumbria, Edwin, and baptises him on Easter Day. Paulinus is allowed to build a little wooden church, the first church on the site of this Minster. And it wasn't easy country. The Venerable Bede tells us that there were villages in these mountains and forests rarely visited by a Christian minister. The first three archbishops were driven out because of war and revolution.

But the small band of Christians, like a tiny acorn, courageously stood their ground. Aidan, a monk from the monastery in Iona, came to the rescue, and extended the Christian presence in the north of England, which radically transformed the existing social order as well as in the South.

The Impact of Discipleship
In our time, this socialising and transforming power of corporate-discipleship is illustrated further by three Christian men at the University of Oxford: Richard Tawney, William Beveridge and William Temple, who were challenged to go to the East End of London to "find friends among the poor, as well as finding out what poverty is and what can be done about it".

In the East End their consciences were pricked by poverty: visible, audible, smellable. After university, Tawney worked at Toynbee Hall, creating a fraternal community; William Beveridge paved the way for the Welfare State in his report which for the first time set out to embody the whole spirit of the Christian ethic in an Act of Parliament. And William Temple, as Archbishop of York, and then Canterbury mobilized the church support for a more just, equal and fraternal Britain. His book Christianity and Social Order is one of the foundation pillars of the welfare state as we know it today.

Responding to Christ
The Jesus who calls us to follow him is saying to us today:
"Hear, O England, the Lord our God is the only Lord,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
With all your soul, with all your mind
And with all your strength
Love your neighbour as yourself".

And the only fitting response for me is this:

Lord take my heart from me,
For I cannot give it to thee
Keep it for thyself,
For I cannot keep it for thee
And save me in spite of myself.

Friends, let us do it and let us do it now! God help and bless us all.

This is an edited extract from the Archbishop's Inauguration Sermon Delivered at York Minster on 30 November 2005

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A Prayer of St. Columbanus (540-615)

I am a lowly creature but I am still God's servant, and I hope that he will choose to wake me from slumber. I hope that he will set me on fire with the flame of his divine love, the flame that burns above the stars, so that I am filled with desire for his love and his fire burns always within me!

I hope that I may deserve this, that my little lamp should burn all night in the temple of the Lord and shine on all who enter the house of God! Lord, I beg you in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and my God, give me a love that cannot stumble so that my lamp can be lit but can never go out: let it burn in me and give light to others.

And you, Christ, our gentle Saviour, in your kindness light our lamps so that they shine for ever in your temple and lighten our darkness and dispel the shadows of the world.

I beg you, my Jesus, fill my lamp with your light. By its light let me see the holiest of holy places, your own temple where you enter as the eternal High Priest of the eternal mysteries. Let me see you, watch you, desire you. Let me love you as I see you, and before you let my lamp always shine, always burn.

Beloved Saviour, show yourself to us who beg a glimpse of you. Let us know you, let us love you, let us love only you, let us desire you alone, let us spend our days and nights meditating on you alone, let us always be thinking of you. Fill us with love of you, let us love you with all the love that is your right as our God. Let that love fill us and possess us, let it overwhelm our senses until we can love nothing but you, for you are eternal. Give us that love that all the waters of the sea, the earth, the sky cannot extinguish: as it is written, love that no flood can quench, no torrents drown. What is said in the Song of Songs can become true in us (at least in part) if you, our Lord Jesus Christ, give us that grace. To you be glory for ever and for ever. Amen.

Columbanus (540-615)

Monday, 5 April 2010

Fresh Expressions

You may have come across the term 'Fresh Expressions' used in relation to church over the past few years or more. But what is it? Here is something written by Bishop Graham Cray the Archbishops' Missioner and Leader of the Fresh Expressions Team:

'Fresh expressions of church' is a term coined by the Church of England report Mission-shaped Church and used in the Church of England and the Methodist Church for the last five years.

It is a way of describing the planting of new congregations or churches which are different in ethos and style from the church which planted them; because they are designed to reach a different group of people than those already attending the original church. There is no single model to copy but a wide variety of approaches for a wide variety of contexts and constituencies. The emphasis is on planting something which is appropriate to its context, rather than cloning something which works elsewhere.

Some fresh expressions are very different from church as we are used to it in the UK – there is a surfer church on Polzeath beach, a Eucharist for Goths in central Cambridge, a youth congregation based in a skate park, and cell church among the Merseyside Police (yes I did say cell church!). Others are more familiar but in unfamiliar settings – church in a café, church in the function room of a pub, church in a school, church in a gym or a sports club. They can be found in rural areas as well as in towns and cities, and have been planted to reach all age groups, pensioners as well as those focused on children or young families. There is no intention to divide people up. The Goth service does not have black clad security guards to ban non Goths at the door. But the aim is to plant church into the communities to which people actually belong. Then those churches can reach out to people who are different as well. Many churches are neighbourhood based. Fresh expressions also try to plant the church into networks.

This is based on two important biblical principles, both found in 1 Corinthians. First they assume that when the gospel is preached in a new community, God grows a church, not just wins some individual Christians. Paul says that he planted the gospel seed, other s watered it, but God gave the growth and what he grew was the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). He also says that when the new believers were baptised, they were all baptised ‘into one body’ (12:13) The second principle is that, just as God’s Son entered our world to win us, so Christian missionaries need to enter the cultures they are trying to reach (9:19-23), so that new believers only have to face the stumbling block of the cross (1:18-25), and not the stumbling block of church culture as well! They can then become agents for change within their culture rather than be drawn out of it into a church culture, which may be alien to them.

The Fresh Expressions initiative has been encouraging and resourcing these developments for the past five years. Reflecting on several years experience it has coined a working definition of a fresh expression of church. It will not be the final word but it is good enough for now.

A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.

* It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.
* It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.

It is a long definition but it is worth unpacking carefully. A fresh expression is a church plant or a new congregation. It is not a new way to reach people and add them to an existing congregation. It is not an old outreach with a new name ('rebranded' or 'freshened up'). Nor is it a half-way house, a bridge project, which people belong to for a while, on their way into Christian faith, before crossing over to 'proper' church. This is proper church!

Fresh expressions are a response to 'our changing culture'. This movement assumes that the church is shaped by both the gospel and the culture it is trying to reach. It is not meant to be conformed to culture, but it is meant to be appropriate for reaching and transforming a culture.

It is primarily for the unchurched – for those who have never been or for those who have stopped going and are not willing to go back to what they experienced before. We are trying to win those who are not reached by church as we know it. At least a third of the adults in the UK, and the majority of children and young people have never been regularly involved in any church in their lifetime – so this is a big mission field, and a growing one.

Because there is no standard model of fresh expression of church. They cannot and should not be cloned! Rather there is a process, which is normally followed, when they are established. It begins with listening – to God and to the community or network you are trying to reach. It is more about discernment than strategic planning: Looking for the Holy Spirit's opportunities, and obeying his call. Out of the listening – which may take some time – comes service: a way of serving the people you are trying to reach. Christians who want to share good news need first to be good news, to show genuine concern for others. This is the start of 'incarnational mission'. Which means following the example of Christ and seeking to evangelise within the community you are now serving. In that context we can begin to make disciples. The very last thing that is decided is the nature of the worship service. Fresh expressions are not about planting a congregation which worships the way the planters prefer and then hoping that other people like it! Listening come first, decisions about worship styles last.

These are fledgling churches and congregations. They have not had the time to become mature. But they have the potential to grow into a mature expression of church. Traditionally the marks of the church have been listed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. But maturity will not mean they become like the churches which planted them. They must remain relevant to their cultural context.

This language assumes that all local churches are 'expressions of church'. No one local church can fully express Christ and his gospel. Each needs to be related to others, which have different gifts or contexts. In particular the fresh expressions of church are not meant to replace existing forms of church, and they are certainly not in competition with them. We use the expression ‘the mixed economy church’ as a way of saying that the one economy of God’s church need both our inherited approaches and fresh ones.

These are challenging and exciting times. Most denominations are finding that their old ways do not reach some parts of our culture. We need the new and the old and then we can work together to reach our nation.

Here is a link to the website: http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/home