Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Standing firm - together


The following is based on something Nicky Gumbel wrote about in his Bible reading notes:

As a young man Philip was kidnapped and held as a hostage in Greece.  There he remained for several years.  During this time he received a military education.  Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land.  Within five years he had become king.

Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm.  He is remembered for two major innovations.  First is the sarissa, a very long spear.  Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx).  A core of highly-trained infantrymen armed with Philip’s longer spears stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies.  Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (which is named after him) in 356 BC.

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy.  It feels like an intense struggle in which another team is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks.  If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction..... It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own.  We are part of a community.  Paul uses this image of the phalanx with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27).  Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm.  This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Unity within the church is a hot topic in the Bible and certainly close to the heart of Jesus who in John Chapter 17 makes it the subject of one of his last prayers. But that unity must be based on sound teaching and a shared understanding of the Gospel message and what god has called us to do with it. Unfortunately however there are too many different views on what the church is for that unity is very difficult.

For example if I asked my congregation what the church is for I think that the answers would differ almost person to person. That's not criticism but an observation. The challenge for me therefore - as it is for every Christian leader - is to try and unify everybody behind some clear objective so that people on a tug-of-war team - to switch analogies - we are all pulling in the same direction.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Matthew Henry


Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) was an English commentator on the Bible and a Presbyterian minister. He is best known for his wonderful six-volume Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708–1710) or Complete Commentary. This provides an exhaustive verse by verse study of the Bible covering the whole of the Old Testament, and the Gospels and Acts in the New Testament. After the author's death, the work was finished (Romans through Revelation) by thirteen other nonconformist ministers, partly based upon notes taken by Henry's hearers, and edited by George Burder and John Hughes in 1811. Although written many years ago it is still a fount of knowledge for the modern preacher/expositor. There are several websites devoted to him and his work including:
http://www.matthewhenry.org/   and http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc

Below are just a small sample of some of his quotes:

“Eve was not taken out of Adam's head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”

“It is good for us to keep some account of our prayers, that we may not unsay them in our practice.”

“There is one death bed repentance recorded in the Bible (the thief on the cross), so that no one despair, but there is ONLY one, so that no one will presume.”



Monday, 22 October 2012

Never be ashamed of your colours

There is a true story told by Lee Dixon the BBC television pundit who is a Manchester City supporter, that he was once promised a ticket to go and see them play away to Liverpool. He went along with his Manchester City scarf only to discover that there had been a mix up re the tickets and he had to sit in amongst the Liverpool supporters. Realising the situation could be a problem he hid his scarf under his coat and took his seat. As the match progressed Manchester City scored and forgetting where he was lee Dixon jumped up to cheer and his coat flew open revealing his Manchester City scarf. As he was about to sit down he saw a very large Liverpool docker march down towards him. He grabbed Lee Dixon by the lapels, unravelled the Manchester City scarf and said this to him: “Never be ashamed of your colours son. Never be ashamed of your colours.”

I love that story because it reminds me never to be ashamed of my faith and to wear it proudly wherever I go. In fact Jesus once said that we should let everyone see it so that they would "give glory" to his Father in heaven (See Matthew 5:14-16).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Explaining God

The following was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista , CA . He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, to 'explain God.' I wonder if any of us could have done as well?

EXPLANATION OF GOD:
'One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn't make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn't have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.'

'God's second most important job is listening to prayers An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn't have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.'

'God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn't go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for something they said you couldn't have.'

'Atheists are people who don't believe in God. I don't think there are any in Chula Vista . At least there aren't any who come to our church.'

'Jesus is God's Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn't want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn't know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O..K.'

'His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn't have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.'

'You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.'

'You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there's anybody you want to make happy, it's God!

Don't skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn't come out at the beach until noon anyway.'

'If you don't believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He's around you when you're scared, in the dark or when you can't swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.'

'But...you shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

And...that's why I believe in God.'

Thursday, 18 October 2012

God's Chisel

Brilliant video about being made into God's image and likeness: See http://skitguys.com/videos/item/ for more

Saturday, 13 October 2012

I know we don't need proof but....

I am always a bit sceptical about claims of proof that there is a heaven (or indeed a hell!) and I hope I am a mature enough Christian to know that we should not need them to believe in what God has told us about in the Bible. But I can't help reading things like the following because they are interesting and confirm, in a way, what I already believe:

A prominent scientist who had previously dismissed the possibility of the afterlife says he has reconsidered his belief after experiencing an out of body experience which has convinced him that heaven exists.

While in a coma the neurosurgeon - Dr Eben Alexander, a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon - says he was met by a beautiful woman in a 'place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones'  He wrote this after recovering from a seven day coma in 2008 after contracting meningitis.

During his illness Dr Alexander says that the part of his brain which controls human thought and emotion "shut down" and that he then experienced "something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death." Writing for American magazine Newsweek Dr Alexander says he was met by a beautiful blue-eyed woman in a "place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones" and "shimmering beings".

He continues: "Birds? Angels? These words registered later, when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms." The doctor adds that a "huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. the sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn't get you wet."

Dr Alexander says he had heard stories from patients who spoke of outer body experiences but had disregarded them as "wishful thinking" but has reconsidered his opinion following his own experience.

He added: "I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone even a doctor told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion.

"But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons." He added: "I've spent decades as a neurosurgeon at some of the most prestigous medical institutions in our country. I know that many of my peers hold as I myself did to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us.
"But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it."
 The above is from an article in The Telegraph (October 13th) and based on an interview from Newsweek where Dr Alexander was promoting his new book Proof of Heaven

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The old, the young and the status quo

In my appraisal of the recent Church in Wales review (see 27th September) I offered a few comments on the possibility of success based on my experience of 25 years of ministry across three dioceses in the Church in Wales which has seen me serve in a variety of places - working class, semi-rural, South Wales valley, middle class and lastly suburban. In the course of my blog I offered this opinion:

"I have concerns with regards to the following:  (1) The will of the vast majority of the Church population to undertake any change - let alone the ones suggested - without considerable resistance. I have discovered, with many, that if you have a predominantly older and more traditional congregation who, generally speaking, are set in their ways and pay/contribute to the vast majority of the Parish Share, any change is fiercely resisted causing whoever is overseeing them so much hassle - and fear - that the easiest option is to go along with the status quo."

This comment is based on my experience - and it is my experience - that generally speaking, with few exceptions, the vast majority of the older members of the congregations I have served have tended to be conservative, traditional and resistant to change and modernization. Coincidentally - and to their credit - the very same people have, due to their generosity and hard work, have kept most of the churches in the Province open until now. Through the various bazaars, coffee mornings, raffles, special events and concerts they have raised enormous amounts of money over the years. This much to their credit. But - and it is a sizeable 'but' - at the same time the church has declined and lost touch with each successive generation with the result that now 'young' means under sixty and children are an endangered species, at least within the confines of a church building. This is because the same people who have been labouring so hard to keep the churches open have, albeit it unwittingly, been the very same people who have been slowly closing them.  Why? Because the mindset of those raising of the money has been one of conservation not innovation, maintenance not mission, preservation not propagation.

So entrenched has been the attitude of those who have been keeping things going that any proposed change that does not conform to their idea of church - usually from 20-30 years ago - is resisted or opposed, and because they hold the power in terms of their money-raising gifts, clergy would rather "go along with the status quo" and pay the Parish Share than dig their heels in and do battle and lose their support.

It has to be said that this is not necessarily an age-specific thing as I have encountered many wonderful examples of open-minded and 'young at heart' older people. At the same time it is also possible to find close-minded and 'old at heart' young people. So this is not a rant aimed at any age group but a sharing of what I have experienced over 25 years of ministry striving to make the churches I have served open their eyes to what is happening around them and the growing gulf between fantasy and reality, the church as it is and the church as it needs to be.

With regards therefore to the Review then I don't think the dynamics of church life as outlined above have been taken into consideration when it comes to talk of such wide-ranging and radical changes. Hence my scepticism that such changes will truly bite and bring about the transformation anticipated.