Friday, 28 July 2017

John Wesley and the call to faith

John Wesley was almost in despair. He did not have the faith to continue to preach. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. To Peter Böhler, a Moravian friend, he confessed his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. Böhler counseled otherwise. "Preach faith till you have it," he advised. "And then because you have it, you will preach faith." A wise Catholic once made a similar statement: "Act as if you have faith and it will be granted to you."

John acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. The prisoner was immediately converted. John was astonished. He had been struggling for years. Here was a man transformed instantly. John made a study of the New Testament and found to his astonishment that the longest recorded delay in salvation was three days--while the apostle Paul waited for his eyes to open.

The Moravians assured him their personal experiences had also been instantaneous. John found himself crying out, "Lord, help my unbelief!" However, he felt dull within and little motivated even to pray for his own salvation. On this day, May 24th, 1738 he opened his Bible at about five in the morning and came across these words, "There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should partakers of the divine nature." He read similar words in other places.
That evening he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. "while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

It took him some time to learn how to live the life of faith, for he was not always possessed of joy and thought he had fallen from salvation. It took time for him to see that it is not Christ and good works, but Christ alone who saves, resulting in good works.

As time went on, John Wesley was mightily used of the Lord to reform England. His Methodists became a national force. John rode thousands of miles (as many as 20,000 a year) preaching as only a man filled with the Holy Spirit can preach, telling the gospel to all who would listen. He acted "as though he were out of breath in pursuit of souls." Wherever he preached, lives changed and manners and morals altered for the better. It is often conjectured that his preaching helped spare England the kind of revolution that occurred in France.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A crossroads for the Church of England

83 UK evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches, and organizations have signed a letter to the College of Bishops, regarding The Church of England’s current discussions on the issue of human sexuality. They urge the Church of England "not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted" while affirming one-man, one-woman marriage as "the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality".

The letter follows two previous letters to bishops from members of the Church of England’s General Synod, which urged the Church to uphold biblical teaching on this issue.
The first letter, signed in July by 32 members of Synod, including Christian Concern’s Chief Executive Andrea Williams, expressed a "lack of confidence" in the July Synod’s ‘shared conversations’ process.

The other, signed in August by 72 Synod members, urged the Church "not to consider any proposals that fly in the face of the historic understanding of the church as expressed in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ (1991) and Lambeth Resolution 1.10."

The Letter to the College of Bishops
The Church of England is at a crossroads in her calling to bring hope and transformation to our nation. The presenting issue is that of human sexuality, in particular, whether or not the Church is able to affirm sexual relationships beyond opposite sex marriage. But the tectonic issues beneath, and driving, this specific question include what it means to be faithful to our apostolic inheritance, the Church’s relationship with wider culture, and the nature of the biblical call to holiness in the 21st Century.
As culture and attitudes continue to change, the Church faces a range of new social realities. These include the rise in cohabitation and the wide scale acceptance of divorce with its negative impact on children, the explosion of diverse types of family relationships, the emergence of gender fluidity and bisexuality, and the recognition of same-sex unions. These far-reaching social changes raise questions and – in some quarters – undermine confidence in our inherited teaching.
The Church has not always navigated these social realities well. We recognize the damage caused by judgmental attitudes. We have sometimes failed to recognize acts of great kindness and humanity. We have elevated some sins above others. We have ignored the plank in our own eye. There is much work ahead, not least in ensuring that our communities offer sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.
At the same time, we remain convinced of the essential goodness of the Christian moral vision. The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality. We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design.
Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice - such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our Apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine. It would also, inevitably, be a further step on a trajectory towards the full acceptance of same-sex sexual partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage.
There are substantive issues at stake here about the Christian understanding of what it means to be human. We do not believe that God has left us alone in the confusion and uncertainty of constructing our own identity. The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.
We do not believe therefore that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of 'secondary importance'. What is at stake goes far beyond the immediate pastoral challenges of human bisexual and same-sex sexual behaviour: it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human, to honour God in our bodies, and to order our lives in line with God’s holy will.
At this crucial juncture, as our bishops pray and discern together regarding how the Church of England should walk forward at this time, we urge them not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted.
Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity. It would cause a break not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries. It will trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans in England. Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.
We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the Gospel, all are invited to repent and receive the grace of God, and all are called as followers of Jesus to live out the Christian moral vision– in lives of self-sacrifice and mutual care – for the common good.

Letter Signatories
Those signing below do so in a purely personal capacity. They are evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches, and organizations and indicative of the breadth and depth of support for this letter. Some could be labeled as LGBTI but are living in conformity with the historic teachings of the church.
Revd Canon Dr. Peter Ackroyd, Vicar, St Marys Wootton, Chair St Albans Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Sam Allberry, Trustee and co-founder of Living Out, an apologist with the Zacharias Trust, editor for The Gospel Coalition.
Revd Steve Allen, Chair of CPAS Patronage Trustees.
Mrs. Lorna Ashworth, a member of the Archbishops' Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, Wycliffe Hall and, General Synod.
Revd Simon Austen, Rector, St. Leonard’s Exeter.
Revd David Banting, Vicar, St Peter’s Harold Wood, Trustee of Reform, and General Synod.
Revd Mark Burkill, Chair of Reform and Chair Latimer Trust.
Revd Nathan Buttery, Associate Vicar, St Andrew the Great, Cambridge.
Revd Tim Chapman, Minister, Christ Church South Cambs, Sawston.
Revd Charlie Cleverly, Rector, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd John Coles, Missional Community Leader, London.
Canon Andrew Cornes, Sussex Gospel Partnership and General Synod.
Revd Alyson Davie, Chair of the House of Clergy for Rochester Diocese.
Revd C J Davis, Rector, St Nicholas, Tooting.
Revd Joe Dent, Rector, Minster Church of St Andrew, Plymouth.
Revd Dr Sean Doherty, St Mellitus College, member of the Living Out team and General Synod.
Revd Will Donaldson, Director of Pastoral Care at St Aldates, Oxford and Area Dean of Oxford.
Revd James Dudley-Smith, Rector and Rural Dean of Yeovil, Member of General Synod.
Revd John Dunnett, Chair of Evangelical Group General Synod (EGGS).
Revd Jonny Elvin, Vicar, Trinity Church, Exeter and Chair of Exeter Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Anthony Everett Chair of Canterbury Diocese Evangelical Network, Vicar, Christ Church and St Andrew's Herne Bay.
Revd Lee Gatiss, Director, Church Society.
Dr Philip Giddings, former Chair, General Synod House of Laity and member of Archbishops' Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Goddard, Fulcrum leadership team. Revd Lis Goddard, Vicar St James the Less, Pimlico and Chair of Awesome.
Revd Chris Green, Vicar, St James, Muswell Hill.
Revd Tim Grew, Acting Lead Pastor, Trinity Cheltenham.
Revd Paul Harcourt, Vicar, All Saints Woodford Wells.
Prof Glynn Harrison, formerly General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Canon Clive Hawkins, Rector, St Mary’s Basingstoke, formerly General Synod.
Revd Dr David Hilborn, Principal, St John's School of Mission, Nottingham
Mr Stephen Hofmeyr, QC, Secretary Church England Evangelical Council.
Revd David Holloway, Vicar, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, Chair of Anglican International Development.
Mr Carl Hughes, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Dr Emma Ineson, Trinity College, Bristol and General Synod
Revd Steve James, Rector, Holy Trinity, Platt, Manchester.
Revd Henry Kendal, Vicar, St Barnabas, Woodside Park.
Revd Paul Langham, Vicar, Christ Church Clifton, Bristol and General Synod.
Mrs Susie Leafe, Director, Reform.
Mr James Lee, House of Laity, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Canon Andy Lines, Mission Director of Crosslinks, General Secretary of AMiE, Chairman of GAFCON UK Task Force.
Revd Chris Lowe, Mission Initiative Leader, St John's Orchard Park, Cambridge.
Revd Angus MacLeay, Rector, St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Reform Trustee, General Synod. Revd Preb Charles Marnham, Vicar, St Michael’s, Chester Square, London.
Revd Rachel Marszalek, General Secretary of Fulcrum.
Revd John McGinley, Vicar, Holy Trinity, Leicester.
Revd Jane Morris, Vicar St Gabriel's, Cricklewood.
Revd Barry Morrison, Chair of Peterborough DEF. Revd Justin Mote, Chair of AMiE exec, and Chair of North West Gospel Partnership.
Revd Rob Munro, Chair Fellowship of Word and Spirit, Chair of House of Clergy for Chester Diocese.
Revd Dr Mike Ovey, Principal, Oak Hill College, London
Revd James Paice, Vicar, St Luke’s Wimbledon Park and Trustee of GAFCON and Trustee of Southwark Good Stewards Trust.
Revd Alasdair Paine, Vicar, St Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge.
Revd Hugh Palmer, Rector All Souls Langham Place, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council.
Revd Canon Ian Parkinson, Leadership Specialist, CPAS.
Miss Jane Patterson, General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Dr Ian Paul, member of Archbishops' Council.
Revd Paul Perkin, Vicar, St Mark’s Battersea Rise. Revd Canon Andrew Perry, Vicar, St Mary's Longfleet, Poole.
Revd David Phillips, Vicar, St James, Chorley, Chair of Blackburn Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd Matthew Porter, Vicar, St Michael le Belfrey, York.
Revd Frank Price, Vicar, St Matthew’s Cambridge and Chair of Ely Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Esther Prior, Chair, Guildford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jonathan Pryke, Jesmond Parish Church.
Revd Martin Reakes-Williams, Leipzig English Church.
Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe's, Oxford.
Revd David Rowe, Priest in Charge, Christ Church, Winchester. Revd Canon Roger Salisbury, Secretary of the Peache Trustees.
Revd John Samways, Trustee Church Patronage Trust.
Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon, Vicar, St. Mark's, Tunbridge Wells.
Mr Ed Shaw, Trustee of Living Out, Pastor, Emmanuel City Centre, Bristol & General Synod.
Revd Charlie Skrine, Associate Rector, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London and EGGS Committee.
Revd Tim Stilwell, Vicar, St Dionis, Parsons Green, London.
Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Convenor Anglican Mainstream, and former member General Synod.
Revd Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream. Revd Canon Martyn Taylor, Rector, Rector, St George’s, Stamford and General Synod.
Revd William Taylor, Rector, St Helens, Bishopsgate and Chairman of ReNew.
Canon Professor Anthony C. Thiselton, FBA, former member of Crown Nominations Commission and Doctrine Commission.
Revd Rico Tice, All Souls Church & Christianity Explored Ministries.
Revd Melvin Tinker, Vicar, St John, Newland, Hull.
Revd Andrew Towner, Vicar Houghton & Kingmoor, Carlisle and Trustee, Diocesan Board of Finance.
Revd Gary Tubbs, Chair of Carlisle Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jon Tuckwell, Associate Minister, Christ Church, Cambridge.
The Revd Dr Simon Vibert, Vice Principal Wycliffe Hall & Director of the School of Preaching.
Mr Jacob Vince, General Synod
Revd Robin Weekes, Vicar, Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.
Revd Paul Williams, Vicar, Christ Church Fullwood and honorary Canon Sheffield Cathedral.

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Thanks, but no thanks!

We had a wonderful day yesterday starting with the awards ceremony where Ruth, our youngest child, received her degree - a 2:1- after three years of hard work. The ceremony in Bristol Cathedral lasted just short of an hour during which everyone was thanked for their hard work - students, lecturers, and family - with rapturous applause and hoots and greetings as each person appeared on the stage to shake the hand of one of the senior staff in congratulations for their achievement. And in a nice little touch at the end the vice-chancellor(?) encouraged the body of students who had received their awards to, in turn, applaud the parents and relatives for their help and support over the years.

But in all the thank-you's that resounded throughout that impressive building - started in the 12th Century and dedicated to the glory of God - one Name was noticeable its absence in the list of who to thank.  God Himself. True the students had studied and sat the exams.True the parents had provided the financial and emotional help that supported their flagging and struggling children. True the authorities had provided the grants - which will one day have to be paid back in full - and true the university had been great in its teaching etc. But all of this - and I mean ALL of this - would not have come to pass if God had not made the world and is, at this very moment, sustaining His creation so that life is made possible.

And who made people, food, material things, people capable of learning and growing, thinking and developing? Who gave the free will to enable us to choose what subject to take and what careers to engage in? Who - through His church - gave universities and colleges and education for all in the first place? Who created many of the subjects and encouraged their research and development over the centuries, making all this possible? Who helped create the environment in which we live, the love we enjoy and the law and order that gives us the freedom in which to flourish? And what about health, hospitals, family structures, values, morality etc.. The list is endless what God has done for us. And so for God to be excluded and overlooked, sidelined and rejected IN HIS OWN HOUSE seems to me to be the height of ingratitude.

It was not always so. In years past this kind of event would have taken place within the context of a service of thanksgiving or at least with a nod in God's direction via prayers and maybe a sermon and a few hymns. But not anymore. God is surplus to requirements, incidental and excluded. the world doesn't need Him and His presence creates too many problems in this religiously diversified world we live in. How far we have fallen. How short our memories. How ungracious and thankless we are. And how stupid and short-sighted.

I am so grateful God is not petty and small-minded, but loving, gracious and kind, otherwise He would have pulled the rug from under this nation years ago and where would we be then.

But, as someone once reminded me, when you point a finger at someone in accusation, you usually find that there are three pointing back at you. And so rather than carp and complain, I must ensure that I am more grateful, more often. Like Paul I must practice what I preach lest "after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified"  (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Keep It Simple Stupid

I don't know if it about getting older, but I am getting more and more fed up with some of the unnecessary complexities of church life and more and more concerned to simplify things.

That is something we are trying to do in our church of St. James in Swansea where I am currently Vicar. Okay, some of the things have just stopped of their own accord e.g. processions led by someone carrying the cross etc. While prayers for the dead (me), no longer passing round the collection plate (the PCC and me ) and lately the use of wardens wands or staves to help usher people towards the front for Holy Communion (the PCC and me) have also disappeared. But there is still too much complexity for me, especially surrounding the Lord's Supper - or is it Mass, Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion etc?

The following article excerpted from Christian Today takes aim at the main service of the Church and - at least for me - hits the mark on so many things. Take a look:

"Sometimes when as a church leader I contemplate everything connected with this thing we call 'church' I ask myself: 'Did Jesus ever really intend all this to be as complex as we often seem to make it?' I am 99.9 per cent sure the answer to that question is 'no'!

Communion is a case in point......Take the Lord's Supper...

...'While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10v22-25).

Let's just pause for a moment and consider what Jesus did not say. He did not say, for example: 'And by the way, when you do this in remembrance of me, please ensure that you use the following items of linen and silverware: a burse, a chalice veil, a pall, a paten, a purificator, chalice and corporal – and let me just pause to sketch out a diagram here to make sure you get it right. Please also ensure you have at least two lighted candles nearby.'

Nor did he say: 'By the way, chaps, I am sure it goes without saying – you need a special table which should be called an altar on which to place all this stuff. And – nearly forgot this one – keep up with your note-taking Peter – make sure that as the months of the year go by, you change the colour of the vestments and also the hangings regularly: violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and so on. Got it?'

Jesus did not say: 'My friends, please be clear that when sharing bread and wine in the future, this ceremony should be presided over by someone who has received three years of theological training, ideally in a city far away from where they live. They should then have a kind of apprenticeship for a year before being licensed at a service in a cathedral to say something similar – albeit much, much longer – to the words I have just now shared with you.'

He did not then go on to say: 'Please notice what I am wearing as I share this meal with you – namely an alb, cincture, chasuble, dalmatic, cassock, surplice and stole, plus clerical collar of course! – and make sure you are dressed likewise.'

.............where do you find them in the teaching of Jesus? Where indeed do you see them in the rest of the New Testament?

I am not – let us be absolutely clear – seeking to make light in any way of Holy Communion itself. Indeed, one thing the New Testament makes clear is that anyone 'who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Corinthians 11). We are to 'examine ourselves' before we eat, as that chapter goes on (11v28) 'for all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgement against themselves'. No, this is mighty serious stuff and we dare not take it lightly.

Moreover, we do not want to disregard 2,000 years of church history, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us..... But.....let us pause and ask: is it just possible that our Communion services.....
have become so cluttered – by rules and traditions Jesus never instituted, and by routines that have grown over-familiar and stale – that we have lost sight of the cross? "

A good question. Just as it is possible to put so many clothes on a man that you are no longer able to see who he really is, so it is possible - and we do it - to overlay something as simple as a communal meal where Jesus asks us to break bread and drink wine together in His name, with so many extraneous things that we forget it's simple message. Remember Jesus who died and rose again for you.

And so as much as it goes against the grain for some, or changes something we are familiar with BACK into something more simple and meaningful in and of itself, I think we should take another look at Holy Communion (or Mass, the Lord's Supper etc) and see if we can't get back to what it really is. Let's remove some of the layers and see what we can find?

Monday, 19 June 2017

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about faith. She tried going to church to find out about Christianity but came out more mystified than she went in. She said:

"I think they ought to do like a church for beginners really, because if you're not used to going, because they always have communion here. [She goes on to explain how she was encouraged to go forward for communion]. It was a really awkward situation, do you know what I mean? And he was giving us the sip of the wine, and the um, and he beckoned us to bring the children up as well, and they give you, whatever it is they give you to eat. Is it rice paper?"

Alison quotes the Church of England's report Mission-Shaped Church:

"The reality is that for most people across England the Church as it is is peripheral, obscure, confusing or irrelevant."

Another respondent Matthew who was also seeking said of people who go to church:

"I think they get a lot out [of it]; this is probably envy in me, but why don't they invent one that I can go to?"
The Word on the Wind page 104-105

Is it time to consider changing our weekly service pattern (again) to one where we either have a 'seeker' service once a month (not communion) or a non-communion service every other week? If the above survey is anything to go by there are people seeking God but are put off by a church that is for the 'found' not the ones who are lost.

Friday, 16 June 2017

And I thought we lived in a free country?

I wonder what people mean when they use the word 'tolerant'? I thought it meant being able to live with people who hold differing opinions to yourself in the freedom of what is meant to be a democratic country? I thought it meant - in the words of Voltaire - being able to say:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
And I thought the Liberal Democrats represented that view. But clearly, they don't. Here is a short article from Christian Today which underlines what an intolerant society we now live in:

David Alton, a crossbench peer and former Liberal Democrat MP, is warning his party has become 'narrow and intolerant' after Tim Farron resigned claiming it was 'impossible' to be a 'faithful Christian' and political leader.

In a damning indictment Lord Alton, an outspoken Catholic and former chief whip of the now-defunct Liberal Party, said the Lib Dems have become a 'sect'.

He wrote on Facebook: 'In turning themselves into a secular version of the Exclusive Brethren they become a sect rather than a broad-based political party. And they should reflect that millions of British people share his Christian beliefs.'

He added: 'It is ironic that a Party, which I joined as a teenager, because of its belief in conscience, human rights and free speech, has morphed into something so narrow and intolerant that, in resigning, its leader says "we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society" and has been forced to choose between his Faith and his Party.'

David Alton was formerly an MP for 18 years before becoming a cross-bench independent peer in the House of Lords

Tim Farron resigned on Wednesday night saying he felt 'torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader'.

He told party activists: 'To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me.

'I'm a liberal to my fingertips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.'

He said he had been the 'subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in', adding: 'We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.'

His statement drew praise and concern from a number of church leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and raised questions over whether a socially conservative Christian will ever lead a political party again.

Lord Alton finished his rebuke by saying: 'This same narrow intolerance characteristic of the commentariat and the political elites has also fed into the creation of the less tolerant and unreasonable world in which we live.

'Tim Farron should never have been forced to make this choice but has made the right call and should be admired for doing so.'

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The other side in the gay marriage debate

 "The pain for those who are both gay and celibate, when a church changes its doctrine on marriage".
As the media and public opinion throw their weight behind the gay marriage debate and the voice of Christians who oppose this are being drowned out, and in some cases frankly denied, the following article by David Bennett is worthly (calmly) reading:

David Bennett 13 June 2017 | 2:25 PM (see Christian Today website:
https://www.christiantoday.com/

The Scottish Episcopalian Church was brave to apologise to LGBT people for the prejudices and horrors of the past weeks and yet no one has asked the question of why saying sorry for the past has anything to do with playing God's role in the present by redefining marriage.

Instead, the Scottish Episcopal Church, among many others, has trampled on celibate LGB people with the decision to depart from God's own teaching in scripture. Next year, when I move to Scotland to study, I may not be able to attend a Scottish Episcopalian Church. The question of whether I can continue to attend in line with the Anglican church I attend in the south of England hangs over my head.

A certain comment from the recent synod flagged this for me. 'Gay people can now be married in God's eyes.' Such a view highlighted the danger we first witnessed in humanity's parents. This danger is making God in our own image by eating from a kind of knowledge and role that God has. We are redefining things that God has already defined for the Church. We hear that voice whisper 'Did God REALLY say [that he made them male and female for marriage]?'

When quoting directly from the creation narrative in Genesis, Jesus does so by rendering what appears in the Hebrew as God's voice, straight from the Creator's own 'mouth'. In Matthew 19:4, 'Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father.' When one decides who and what God's image is in contradiction to what he has said, one puts themselves in the place of God. When the Church exalts herself above God, she breaks covenant with God.

As a former agnostic gay rights activist involved in campaigns for gay marriage, I thought the Christian God was the justification of homophobes and a moral monster. He was a weapon in the hands of conservatives who deprived LGBTQI people of their rights. A God of such objectionable character, who wrathfully rejected homosexual people and yet 'made them that way' was beyond the pale of existence. It wasn't until I experienced God's love in a pub in 2009 that my life was turned entirely upside down. I discovered that what I thought at that time, in fact couldn't be further from the truth. God's incredible love for all people, beyond any label, is the reality that must be stressed above all, shown most principally in the giving of Himself on a cross to save us from our own self-made destruction.

The journey from agnosticism to Christian faith was what pushed me, among other obvious reasons, for gay marriage rights. I wanted to marry my partner in the holiness of Christian marriage. However, as I mined the depths of scripture, and came to know Jesus Christ more profoundly, deep doubts about the revisionist theology I had adopted to quickly started to emerge.

Why would this God of love make us male and female to the exclusion of other realities? What was the effect of our fall from relationship with God in these bodies and our sexuality? From these discussion, I discovered I wasn't created this way but like all human beings, I was born as a beautiful but broken creation.

As I discovered who God was in worship, I came to realise that marriage was not for just the sake of procreation or to exclude homosexual people from marriage as I often heard from conservative Christians. Rather, marriage between one man and one woman was designed as one way that our Earthly lives can reflect our deepest unity with God in Christ. The creation of physical sexes was to allow us to enjoy an allegory of this greater hope, not to exclude LGBT people. To enshrine gay marriage in the Church as the Scottish Episcopal Church has done is to erase the unique humanity of the sexes, and to 'exchange the image of the Creator' expressed in the designation of male and female sexes for another image. This is a false reformation, an anathema, equivalent to those who taught the Law had to be added to salvation.

And yet part of the issue lies in the Reformation, and that it did not go far enough. When Martin Luther reformed the church, he threw celibacy out as the pendulum swung one way against the corruptions of Catholicism at the time. He made celibacy into a 'lofty asceticism', and marriage, the godly ideal of the average Christian. This has done damage ever since, especially to those like myself who want to follow Christ with our homosexuality. Celibacy is now seen as some cruel deprivation of a human right, and absolute necessity for human flourish. Scripture teaches the exact opposite.

What I see in this recent decision by the Scottish Episcopalian Church is not just a decision on a societal issue, but a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is built on the good news that your worth or value is not dependent on marrying; our worth and value and acceptance are based in Christ and in our identity as children of God.

As a gay celibate man, who has given my whole self to God, and He, His Son, I am not interested in self-justifying theology – I am interested in the truth of the unchanging, holy God, our Father in Heaven. By standing against His image in creation in such a decision also disenfranchises one group of LGBTQI people, gay Christian celibate people like myself. We are already a minority within a minority, with the loud voices of the romantic sectarianism, which will continue to insist that we need romantic love to be whole. We are often treated with contempt, spat at and treated with contempt by many in secular society. Now we will have to enter churches in the future where our deep sacrifice for Christ is dismissed as a joke.

My heart mourns for the church of Jesus Christ who is forgetting the everlasting wisdom repeated by God since humanity fell: 'Flee Idols, and worship me alone.' Anything less is not worth the deathly dividend. If the whole church was living in the costly sacrifice of normal Christian discipleship, homosexuality and celibacy would not be an issue in the slightest.

The decision to legalise gay marriage reflects our cultures inability to see nuance, and shows that the damaging effects of polarisation and the ignorance of the culture war. This ignorance has become so deeply ingrained we have opted to change God to accommodate our hurt, brokenness and fallen desires.

I am deeply grieved for LGB people like myself, who have denied ourselves, picked up our cross and followed Jesus. We will have to find our place in the wilderness as activists and churches continue to ignore, neglect, culturally marginalise, malign and close their doors to us. Our voice is left unheard. For many of us our choice to be celibate is not some easy gift, but a costly sacrifice that speaks louder than these words ever can. I wish my family walked the narrow path of righteousness with me. Nothing has really changed since Jesus' own life – his true followers, like him, will be thrown out of the places of worship as he predicts in John 16. Perhaps we are better off there.

David Bennett has recently completed postgraduate studies in theology at the University of Oxford and is currently completing his first book, A War of Loves: A Gay Rights Activist Encounters Jesus Christ, with Zondervan to be released mid-next year.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Trust the Bible

Praying for Five Friends #ThyKingdomCome from Thy Kingdom Come on Vimeo.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Muslims and dreams of Jesus

Abdul met Jesus in a dream while awaiting deportation at Heathrow.

‘I came to the UK because I had a problem in Afghanistan,’ says Abdul Ahmad (32). That’s a bit of an understatement, as it turns out.

Abdul is currently being held at Heathrow’s Immigration Removal Centre awaiting deportation. And it is here that he has discovered the Bible.

‘I committed adultery with my neighbour’s wife,’ he says. ‘The father of the man came and I ran away, because in Afghanistan when you commit adultery, they will kill you. I was afraid that I would be killed.’

Abdul fled to his uncle’s house in Kabul. There he paid $6,000 to a trafficker to bring him to the UK in the back of a lorry. This is ten years’ ago.

For four years he sofa surfed and lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Then, in 2011 he was stopped, randomly by the police. This revealed that he had no legal status in the UK, and so he finds himself at Heathrow awaiting deportation.

Here, he was befriended by a Nigerian Christian detainee who introduced Abdul to the Bible. Then one night, he had a dream.

‘I was asleep at 4.30am and I had a dream,’ he says. ‘All the world was very dark, but then a person came who was shining light. I couldn’t look at his face. I said, “Who are you?” He said, “I am Jesus, the Messiah”.

‘I said, “Who are all these other people?” He said, “These are all the people who love me.” And then I woke up. I couldn’t sleep. I stood and thought about it and then I came to the chapel.

‘I think that Jesus is my friend to tell me about himself like that,’ he says.

Abdul’s been reading a Bible in his native language. ‘The Bible gives me everything I need really,’ he says. ‘When I read it I become relaxed and I forget that I’m in the detention centre. It makes me very happy.’

Abdul’s future is at best uncertain. ‘I’m afraid for my life if I go back to Afghanistan,’ he says. ‘People aren’t educated. They will just kill me because I am a Christian as well as for the adultery.’

Abdul received a Bible in his native language thanks to our supporters. Find out more about our work in Heathrow’s Immigration Removal Centre.
Author: Bible Society, 2 June 2017

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

We have hope

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23 and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:18-27

It is difficult not to read Paul's words (verse 18) without thinking of what happened in Manchester recently with the senseless killing of 22 people - many of them children - by a 22-year-old who blew himself up in the process. Here Paul reminds us that as beautiful and wonderful as life can be, there is darkness mixed in with the light. There is always the presence of suffering in one form or another, whether that is the suffering caused by war or terror, or the suffering of illness or old age.

But, as Christians, we live in hope:
First, that what we are seeing now, is not all that it is meant to be; what God intended. And so Paul talks about the present creation "waiting in eager longing" for the new creation God is going to bring about, and which one day will be revealed in all its glory. At the moment we are all subject to a "bondage to decay" (verse 21) which leads to death. But creation is looking forward in hope, and as it does it "groans inwardly" - or as one translation puts it - "in travail".

The picture is one of a woman in labour, struggling with the pain and effort of bringing a new baby into the world. For now, there is struggle and agony, but it is not in vain, for what will come will be qa joyful and glorious new life.  There will be a death, but there will also be a resurrection.

Second, we live in hope because we as Christians were saved in hope. In other words, we know that although the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 3:23) - which is the consequence of living in a world affected by sin and decay - yet by faith we can receive the "free gift of God" which is life in Christ Jesus. And it is "In this hope", writes Paul, that "we were saved" (verse 24).

Because of Jesus we know that death is not the end, that evil will not have the last word, and God will raise up his people, and his creation, to new life.

That is the glorious vision John the Apostle has in Revelation 21:1-6:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.......And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Lastly, we as Christians, by our faith and our lives, are meant to be signs of this coming new creation. We are, says Paul "the first fruits of the Spirit" (verse 23). We are light bearers and hope bringers. We know the power of the Spirit in our own lives for "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (verse 26). He 'intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (verse 26b), when we have no words to say. And through our interaction with the Spirit, we come to know with assurance the mind and the will of God for us and for all (verse 27).

Listening to the news over the past few days, the word that kept cropping up in the comments, messages, poems, speeches and songs in response to what happened, was the word 'love'. And that is true as we saw wonderful examples of people helping others. But another important word is 'hope'. We need hope, the hope that one day evil will be judged and eradicated, and the love of God will ultimately triumph over death, suffering and the evil we saw in actions of that one individual and the ideology that persuaded him that wat he did was somehow pleasing to God.
(Talk given at midweek service in St. James, Uplands 24th May 2017)

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thy Kingdom Come Prayer Campaign


Hundreds of thousands of Christians of all denominations are preparing to take part in the international prayer initiative “Thy Kingdom Come” which starts next week.  What began as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Church of England last year has quickly grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.

Between 25th May and 4th June, communities and churches around the world are gathering together to pray that their friends, families and neighbours come to know Jesus Christ. Prayer events of all shapes and sizes will take place across the 10 days, including 24-7 prayer rooms, prayer days, prayer walks and half nights of prayer. Cathedrals, churches and other venues will host Beacon Events, gathering people across towns and cities to worship and to pray for the empowering of the Holy Spirit for effective witness.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a global challenge to Christian people to take the #Pledge2Pray for #ThyKingdomCome, an online prayer initiative. 

Archbishop Justin said:
Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that we, those who follow him, might ‘be one that the world might believe.’ We are invited to make a lasting difference in our nations and in our world, by responding to his call to find a deep unity of purpose in prayer. It’s not a Church of England thing, it’s not an Anglican thing, it’s a Christian thing.”

The Revd Canon Chris Russell, Adviser for Evangelism & Witness at Lambeth Palace, said:
“Thy Kingdom Come is a wonderful opportunity to join with Christians around the world in praying that most ancient of prayers ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ so we might rediscover our vocation to all be witnesses to Jesus Christ. “While there are ideas and resources and prayers and activities available for all, it is at the core about God's people praying for the empowering of the Spirit. And we can all do that.”

Archbishop John Sentamu said:
“It is my prayer that we shall continue growing in confidence to share Christ; that we shall see the Holy Spirit bringing joy, healing, reconciliation, and hope to many, and bringing new life both to Church and community, to the glory of God the Father. Remember, whilst the big events are fantastic, Thy Kingdom Come is really about being part of a movement of prayer – so small is beautiful, for Jesus says ‘where two or three gather together in my name…’  ”

Emma Buchan, project leader for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Evangelism Taskforce, who heads up Thy Kingdom Come, said:
“The global response to the campaign this year has been overwhelming. We’ve heard from churches across the world, including different denominations and traditions, who have all pledged to get involved from South Africa to Canada and from Brazil to Hong Kong. Each place is organising the time in their own way, for example in Hong Kong they are planning big celebrations in the cathedrals and establishing a network of ‘prayer warriors’. That’s the beauty of Thy Kingdom Come,” she said.

“Last year Thy Kingdom Come gave people time and space outside their normal worshipping patterns to come closer to God and we heard many stories of the deep impact it had on people’s lives. This year we have developed a wide range of resources for everyone which includes ideas on prayer stations, prayer walks, finding fun and creative ways of praying together as a family. We also have Novena prayer booklets and liturgy for a range of traditions.”

To take part simply register online. The resources and blog section of the website provides many ideas for prayer, including downloadable orders of service, liturgies and Novenas. Participants will receive a daily reflection email which will be sent to inboxes each morning during the eleven days. With a different daily prayer theme the email will include a video reflection from one of the international Christian leaders. It will also feature a bite-sized and youth-friendly film. People will be encouraged to “Pray It – Picture It – Post It” to the Thy Kingdom Come website prayer walls. These will draw together the daily prayer theme prayers of each day, such as #ToJesus, which will feature the Most Revd Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The complete list of the 11 Prayers and the participating church leaders:

25 May  #ToJesus:  The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate,  the Episcopal Church in the United States of America

26 May  #Praise:  His Eminence Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna

27 May  #Thanks:  The Most Rev Paul Kwong, Archbishop of Hong Kong

28 May  #Sorry:  The Venerable Liz Adekunle, Archdeacon of Hackney, London

29 May  #Offer:  The Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio, Bishop of Cuba

30 May  #PrayFor:   The Most. Rev. Fred Hiltz, Archbishop and Primate, the Anglican Church of Canada

31 May  #Help:   The Most Rev John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and Primate of England

1 June  #Adore:  The Rev. Roger Walton, President, British Methodist Conference

2 June  #Celebrate:  His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop, the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

3 June  #Silence:  Br. Keith Nelson, SSJE, the Society of St. John the Evangelist

4 June  #ThyKingdomCome:   The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England

Churches around the Communion requiring further information are invited to contact The Very Revd Robert Key: Email : bob.key@lambethpalace.org.uk

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Secret Power

A living saint

As I am - we remember

In it to win it

A few years ago now I once complained to a friend (and mentor) of mine, the Rev Stuart Bell about the Church in Wales and whether it was not just better off leaving it and going to England given the problems it was having with falling attendances etc. I then asked him why he hadn't considered the idea. I will never forget his reply. he said he was committed to the Church in Wales and wanted to work, with God for its renewal. He said: "I'm in it, to win it." That was his calling and after years of struggles, questions, frustrations and disappointments, I have decided that I agree. I too, am in it to win it.

I say this now after ten years of wrestling with the question. I have looked at other denominations like the Baptist, or the Orthodox Church and even the Roman Catholic Church, all of whom I have great admiration for. I even toyed, briefly, with the possibility of moving to Bristol where my eldest daughter and grandchildren live. I say briefly because as a Swansea City supporter and season ticket holder I would not want to travel an hour and a half every Saturday or evening home game to go and watch them.

Things became hairier when the whole question of the ordination and marriage of practising homosexuals reared its head. How could I remain a member of a Church which accepted such things? Looking more closely at the Roman Catholicism I admired their no-nonsense approach to such things and felt maybe that would be a safe place to run to? However there were too many things that I could not agree with and that idea never really materialised.

However, over the past four months of enforced rest from work, I have had much time to ponder and think and have come back again to Stuart's attitude that leaving would be unhelpful and unfulfilling and contradict the whole basis of my own calling by God which was to serve Him in the Anglican Church, come what may.

This was further reinforced by an article from Christian News Today which was written in the face of the news that one evangelical church in the Church of England has sought alternative episcopal oversight through the appointment of a 'rogue' bishop. In response, a spokesperson from a leading traditional evangelical organisation, the Church Society reiterated that as far as they were concerned "there will be no mass exodus of evangelicals from the Church of England"

Lee Gatiss, director of the Church Society, wrote in his latest 'Topical Tuesday' column that many evangelicals view the current climate in the Church of England, and the battle over how far to go in accepting LGBT people, as comparable to Brexit.

He said they are asking: 'Where shall I go to church? Where shall I offer myself to serve in ministry? Is it time to leave the CofE?'

But it is not a straightforward question, binary question as Brexit was.

'Evangelicals will not en masse leave the CofE. There is no fabled blueprint or master plan for doing that. And there never has been,' he says, going on to criticise those calling most stridently for division", he wrote. 

He went on to write:

'Interestingly, those who often seem to talk "toughest" on all this, cannot bring themselves to actually do it themselves. They are happy to urge others to leave but I've noticed some of the most strident advocates for leaving, on social media and elsewhere, are all still in Church of England parishes and vicarages and pension schemes.

'Though they try to push others into much more precarious family and financial and fellowship situations than they themselves happen to enjoy.' 

He said Credible Bishops, a discussion document (revealed exclusively by Christian Today) was a useful discussion paper by two individuals on an important subject which must be discussed. There was no vote on it at the conference. But he insisted it was not a widely accepted plan.

'Anglican evangelicals do not all agree on tactics or that the victory of the liberal agenda in the Church is inevitable and imminent as some say,' he added.

But doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing. 'What we must try to do is the right thing.'

He noted that in 17th century many who left the Church of England ended up as Unitarians, especially those who were decidedly against systematic theology and wanted to only talk about and study the Bible.

In the 18th century, the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion was detached.

In the 19th century the Free Church of England people began to leave.

In the 20th century the C of E (Continuing) was formed.

As for where they are all now, about 1,000 people meet each week in the Countess of Huntingdon's churches.

'Of those who left in the 19th century, the Free Church of England is still small.

'The Church of England (Continuing) may not continue for very much longer. It has four congregations (and two bishops) soldiering on with the King James Version and the 1662 Prayer Book alone.'

Secession is never easy, and such things need to be much more carefully thought through, he said.

'The vast majority of conservative evangelicals in the Church of England are not about to go anywhere or do anything wild. They are united around the agenda of staying in and fighting on, for the glory of God and the good of England.'

He dismissed the Newcastle consecration as the work of a 'perplexingly idiosyncratic church' which has 'gone a bit rogue'.

He continued:

'... today, we in Church Society reaffirm our commitment to working within the structures of the Church of England, for reform and renewal, and the re-evangelisation of our spiritually needy land,' he said.

'So either way, let's fight for Jesus in ways Jesus would approve. And Jesus's people will, we pray, see something attractive and worth being part of – for the glory of God and the good of his world.'

I am an evangelical (in the best sense of the word which means I am NOT right-wing, pro-Israel, or a supporter of Donal Trump) am not, nor would consider, becoming a member of the Church Society, but I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Gatiss' reasoning and conclusion. I am determined to stay and proclaim the Gospel as an Anglican until the end, praying and working for renewal and supporting those of my fellow clergy who wish to do the same.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

Try Praying

Try Praying is a website that encourages you to pray. It is surprising, in this secular age we live in, how many people actually pray. Even more surprising - at least to some - is how much God answers prayer.

The Try Praying website can be found by clicking here . On it, you will find some very inspiring videos of people who have discovered the power of prayer in their lives.

It is a good website to visit as it helps prepare you for the coming nine days of prayer which many churches up and down the land will be setting aside to encourage prayer for the nation. It is called: "Thy Kingdom Come" and it was started by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, last year on the days between Ascension and Pentecost. You can check out the website by clicking here and find lots of videos from people who have been blessed by it.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Looks interesting

Would You Adam and Eve It? from Searchlight Theatre on Vimeo.

Living A Transformed Life Adequate To Our Calling

The following is an excellent article by the late Dallas Willard published in 2005. It picks up some of the themes of the last two posts and is concerned about that middle part of the salvation process - the present.

"Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." 
(Eph. 4:1)

"Since we stand before so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, with our eyes set on Jesus, who initiated our faith and will bring it to perfection." 
(Heb. 12:1-2)

"There is no good tree which produces bad fruit…. 
The good man out of the good stored up in his heart, brings forth what is good." 
(Luke 6:43-45)

To fulfil the high calling which God has placed upon us in creating us and redeeming us, we must have the right inner substance or character. We must come to grips with who we really are, inside and out. For we will do what we are. So we will need to become the kind of people who routinely and easily walk in the goodness and power of Jesus our Master. For this, a process of "spiritual formation"—really, transformation—is required.

Spiritual formation for the Christian is a Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self –our "spiritual" side—in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself. In the degree to which such a spiritual transformation to inner Christlikeness is successful, the outer life of the individual will become a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus. We will simply "walk the walk," as we say.

Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless, well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God. Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning (an attitude).

Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other, remarks on his own efforts for Christ:

"By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I laboured even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (2 Cor. 15:10)
The supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.

Spiritual formation in Christ is the way of rest for the weary and over-loaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matt. 11:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and the dish (Matt. 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). It is the path along which God’s commandments are found not to be "heavy." (1 John 5:3)

Before turning to some details of Christian spiritual transformation in the various dimensions of the human being, we need to be clear about the general pattern that all effective efforts toward personal transformation—not just Christian spiritual formation—must follow. Because we are active participants in the process, and because what we do or do not do makes a huge difference, our efforts must be based on understanding. The degree of success in such efforts will essentially depend upon the degree to which this general pattern is understood and intentionally followed. Jesus indeed said that without him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) But we can also be sure that if we do nothing it will be without him. So he commands us to "abide in the Vine." (15:1-7) We must find a way to do that.

Let us begin with a couple of easy illustrations, and then spell out the pattern in its generality.

Learning to Speak Arabic
Suppose someone wishes to speak a language they do not presently know: say Arabic or Japanese. In order to carry through with this simple case of (partial) personal transformation, they must have some idea of what it would be like to speak the language in question—of what their lives would then be like—and why this would be a desirable or valuable thing for them. They also need to have some idea of what must be done to learn to speak the language, and why the price in time, energy, and money that must be expended constitutes a ‘bargain,’ considering what they get in return. If they are to succeed, all of this needs to be clearly before them. They need to be gripped by the desirability of it. That would be their vision.

The general absence of such a vision explains why language learning is generally so unsuccessful in educational programs in the United States. The presence of such a vision, on the other hand, explains why the English language is learned at a phenomenal rate all around the world. Multitudes clearly see the ways in which their life might be improved by knowledge of English. As the vision is clear and strong, it pulls everything else required along with it; and the language is learned, even in difficult and distracting circumstances.

Still, more than vision is required, and, especially, there is required an earnest intention. Projects of personal transformation do not succeed by accident, drift, or imposition. Effective action has to involve order, subordination, and progression, developing from the inside of the personality. It is, in other words, a spiritual matter, a matter of meaning and will, for we are spiritual beings. Conscious involvement with "order, subordination, and progression, developing from the 'inside' of the personality," is required.

Imagine, if you can, a person wondering day after day if he or she is going to learn Arabic, or if he or she is going to get married to a certain person—just waiting, to see whether it would "happen." That would be laughable. But many people actually seem to live in this way with respect to major issues involving them, including spiritual growth. That fact goes far to explain why lives often go as badly as they do. To learn a language, as for the many even more important concerns of life, we must resolutely intend the vision, if it is to be realized. That is, we must initiate, decide, bring into being, those factors that would turn the vision into reality.

And that brings us to the final element in the general pattern of personal transformation: that of means or instrumentalities. Carrying through with the pattern for the illustration at hand, one will sign up for language courses, listen to recordings, buy books, associate with people who speak Arabic, immerse yourself in the culture, possibly spend some intensive times in Jordan or Morocco, and practice, practice, practice. There are means known to be effective toward transforming people into speakers of Arabic or Russian, etc. This is not mysterious. If the vision is clear and strong, and the employment of the means thoughtful and persistent, then the outcome will be ensured.

Another Illustration: Alcoholics Anonymous
Another illustration of the "general pattern" of personal transformation is provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar "twelve step" programs. Here, of course, the significance of the transformation or change is perhaps far greater for the person involved, than in the case of learning a language; and the outcome is a negative one—that is, a refraining from doing something very harmful, something that could possibly lead to untimely death. But the pattern is basically the same.

A desirable state of being is envisioned, and an intention to realise it is actuated in decision. Means are applied to fulfil the intention (and the corresponding decision) by producing the desirable state of being: in this case, abstinence from alcohol and a life of sobriety, with all the good that that entails. The familiar means of the traditional AA program—the famous "twelve steps" and the personal and social arrangements in which they are concretely embodied, including a conscious involvement of God in the individual's life—are highly effective in bringing about personal transformation.

V-I-M: The General Pattern
With these two illustrations before us (language learning and AA), the general pattern of personal transformation should now be clear. We emphasise that it also holds for those transformations that can only occur through Grace: through the initiative and through the constant direction and upholding of God. To keep the general pattern in mind as we continue, we will use the little acronym "VIM," as in the phrase "vim and vigour."

Vision
Intention
Means

"Vim" is grammatically related to the Latin term "vis," meaning direction, strength, force, vigour, power, energy, or virtue; and sometimes meaning sense, import, nature or essence. Now spiritual formation in Christlikeness is all of this to human existence. It is the path by which we can truly, as Paul told the Ephesians, "be empowered in the Lord and in the energy of his might" (Ephesians 6:10) and "become mighty with his energy through his Spirit entering into the inward person" (3:16). It spells out the "life to the full" that Jesus, in his own person, brought into the life of humankind. (John 10:10) Only by receiving this life do we become adequate to our calling. God never intended anything else.

So, if we are to be spiritually formed in Christ, we must implement the appropriate vision, intention, and means. Not just any path we take will do. If this V-I-M pattern is not properly put in place and resolutely adhered to, Christ simply will not be formed in us. We do not want to be ‘picky’ about the details. That can sidetrack us into legalism. But apart from an overall V-I-M pattern of life, what we are inwardly will be left substantially as it was before we came to know Christ, and as it is in nonChristians. Our inner life—what makes up our inner being of will, thoughts, emotions, social connections and even the dispositions of our body—will constantly entangle us and defeat us. Paul’s penetrating description has never been improved on: "For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish." (Rom. 7:19) Paul, of course, did not stay there. He knew the bitter reality, but he also knew how to move on.

We will make a quick survey of V-I-M in spiritual formation, and then return to each part for a deeper look.

The Vision of Life in the Kingdom
The vision of our life in the kingdom of God, is the place we must start. This is the vision Jesus brought. It was the gospel he preached. He came announcing, manifesting, and teaching what the kingdom of the heavens was like, and that it was immediately availability in Himself. "I was sent for this purpose," he said (Luke 4:43). If we from the heart accept Him and His kingdom, we will find our feet firmly planted on the path of Christian spiritual formation.

What is "the kingdom of God." It is the range of God's effective will, where what God wants done is done. It is, like God himself, from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 103:17; see also Psalm 93:1-2; Daniel 4:3; 7:14; and so on). The planet Earth and its immediate surroundings seem to be the only place in creation where God permits his will to not be done. Therefore we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," and we hope for the time when that kingdom will be completely fulfilled even here on earth (Luke 21:31; 22:18)—where, in fact, it is already present (Luke 17:21; John 18:36-37), and is available to those who seek it with all their hearts (Matthew 6:13; 11:12; Luke 16:16). For those who do so seek and find it in Christ, it is true even now that "all things work together for their good" (Romans 8:28, PAR), and that nothing can cut them off from Gods inseparable love and effective care (Romans 8: 35- 39). That is the nature of a life in the kingdom of the heavens now.

The vision that underlies spiritual (trans)formation into Christlikeness is, then, the vision of life now and forever in the range of God's effective will. This means we are partaking of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:1-2) through a birth "from above," and participating by our actions in what God is doing now in our lifetime on earth. Thus Paul tells us, "Whatever we do, speaking or acting, do all on behalf of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17, PAR). Being born into his Kingdom, in everything we do we are permitted to do his work. That is what we are learning. That is the priviledge extended to us in the gospel. What this vision calls us to is to live fully in the kingdom of God—and as fully as possible now and here, not just hereafter.

The Intention to be a Kingdom Person
The vision of life in the kingdom through reliance upon Jesus makes it possible for us to intend to live in the kingdom as he did. We can actually decide to do it. Concretely, we intend to live in the kingdom of God by intending to obey the precise example and teachings of Jesus. This is the form taken by our confidence in him. Our confidence in him is not merely a matter of believing things about him, however true and important they may be. Indeed, no one can actually believe the truth about him without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility. To think otherwise is to indulge a widespread illusion that now smothers spiritual formation in Christlikeness among professing Christians and prevents Christian spiritual formation from naturally spreading worldwide.

Gandhi, who had closely observed Christianity as practiced around him in Great Britain and in Europe, remarked that if only Christians would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, "we all would become Christians." We know what he meant, and he was right. But the dismaying truth is that the Christians were living according to their "belief" in the teachings of Jesus. They didn't believe them! They did not really trust him.

Knowing the "right answers"—knowing which ones they are, being able to identify them and say them—does not mean we believe them. To believe them, like believing anything else, means that we are set to act as if they (the "right answers") were true, and that we will so act in appropriate circumstances. And acting as if the right answers are true means, in turn, that we intend to obey the example and teachings of Jesus our Master. What else could we intend if we believed he is who his people through the ages have declared him to be?

The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving "Christian culture." In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor or your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don't intend to follow their advice, you simply don't trust them.

Intention Involves Decision
Now, an intention is whole and real only if it includes a decision to fulfill or carry through with the intention. We commonly find people who say they intend (or intended) to do certain things that they do not do. To be fair, external circumstances may sometimes have prevented them from carrying out the action. And habits deeply rooted in our bodies and life contexts can, for a while, thwart even a sincere intention. But if something like that is not the case, we know that they never actually decided to do what they say they intended to do, and that they therefore did not really intend to do it. Accordingly they lack the power and order that intention brings into life processes.

Of course the robust intention, with its inseparable decision, can only be formed and sustained upon the basis of a forceful vision. The elements of V-I-M are mutually reinforcing. Those whose word "is their bond," or "is as good as gold," are people with a vision of integrity. They see themselves standing in life and before God as those who do not say one thing and think another. They "mean what they say." This is greatly valued before God, who abominates "swearing falsely" and honors those "who stand by their oath even when it harms them" (Psalm 15:4, PAR). Similarly, it is the vision of life in God's kingdom and its goodness that provides an adequate basis for the steadfast intention to obey Christ. And that intention, carried through, will in turn enhance the vision by making it clearer and brighter.

Means
The clear vision and the solid intention to obey Christ will naturally lead to seeking out and applying the means to that end. That is the natural order in human life. Here the means in question are the means for spiritual transformation: for replacing the inner character of the "lost" person with the inner character of Jesus—his vision, understanding, feelings, decisions, and character. By finding such means we are not left to ourselves, but have rich resources available to us in the example and teachings of Jesus, in the Scriptures generally, and in his people through the ages. They include such practices as solitude, memorization and meditation upon scriptures, fellowship and accountability to others, and so forth. More on this below.

Suppose, for example, we are convinced that we should, as Jesus would, be generous to those who are in need, but who have already taken away some of our money or property through legal processes. Mere "will power," with gritted teeth, cannot be enough to enable us to do this. By what means, then, can we become the kind of person who would gladly do this, as Jesus himself would do it? If we have the vision of the goodness of it, and we intend (have decided) to do it, we can certainly find and implement the means.

For example we might, in solitude, prayer and scripture meditation, identify our resentment and our anger toward the person who needs our help as the cause of our not gladly helping him. And then there is justice. Ah, justice! Perhaps in the form of "I do not owe it to him. He has no claims on me." Or perhaps we feel the legal case that went against us and in his favor was rigged or unfair. Or again, perhaps we think we must secure ourselves by holding onto whatever surplus items we have. After all, we may say, who knows what the future holds? Or perhaps we think giving to people what is unearned by them will harm them by corrupting their character, leading them to believe one can get something for nothing. Or perhaps it is just not our habit to give to people with no prior claim on us—without regard to whether they may also have injured or deprived us. Or perhaps our friends, including our religious friends, would think we are fools. And so forth.

What a thicket of darkness and lostness stands in the way of doing a simple good thing: helping someone in need, someone who just happens to have previously won a legal case against us, possibly quite justly. It is the all-too-customary human thinking, feeling, and social practice that stands in the way. And, truthfully, it is very likely that little can be done on the spot to help one do the good thing that Jesus commands. But by a course of study, prayer and practice we can become different inside, and then be able to do it with ease and joy.

This is characteristic of all Jesus’s example and teaching. When my neighbor who has injured me or triumphed over me in the past now stands before me in a need I can remedy, I will not be able "on the spot" to do the good thing, if my inner being is filled with all the thoughts, feelings, and habits that characterize the ruined soul and its world. On the other hand, if I intend to obey Jesus Christ, I must intend and decide to become the kind of person who would obey. That is, I must find the means of receiving his grace and changing my inner being until it is substantially like his, pervasively characterised by his thoughts, feelings, habits, and relationship to the Father. Overall, this will amount to a life organised around wise spiritual disciplines under grace. We learn that we cannot do what we should do just by trying, but that by training we can become the kind of person who would do it with little thought or effort.

In the spiritual life it is actually true that "where there is a will there is a way." It is true there because God is involved and makes his help available to those who seek it. On the other hand, where there is no will (firm intentions based on clear vision) there is no way. People who do not intend to be inwardly transformed, so that obedience to Christ "comes naturally," will not be transformed. God will not pick us up and throw us into transformed kingdom living, into "holiness."

In sum, the problem of spiritual transformation (really, of the normal lack thereof) among those who identify as Christians today is not that it is impossible, or that effectual means to it are not available. The problem is that spiritual transformation into Christlikeness is not intended. People do not see it and its value, and decide to carry through with it. They do not decide to do the things Jesus did and said. And this in turn is, today, largely due to the fact that they have not been given a vision of life in God's kingdom, within which such a decision and intention would make sense. The ‘gospel’ they have heard did not bring that vision. As a result, the entire V-I-M of Christ's life and life in Christ is not the intentional substance and framework of their life."

The rest of Dallas' Article - and others - can be found here:
http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=119


Salvation - past, present and future Part 2

Paul in Romans 7 is referring to the sin habits that his previous life without Christ have formed in his body, his mind and his reactions to the things that haoppen to him. We too learn these habits from early on, picking them up from adults around us, later friends and peer groups, as the sin that is present in the creative order works away in us. The Bible and the Church has various ways of explaining this, the most well known of course being the story of Adam and Eve our parents.

Now bearing in mind this does not have to be read as literal truth (you can if you wish) it neverthless seeks to explain how the power of sin came into the world and links it with our disobedience of God's express command: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:16-17). Please note that God wasn't wanting to deny them the understanding of the difference between good and evil - any responsible parent would want to do that - but in their original state of innocence and sinlessness they were, made in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:27), at that stage perfect and pristine creatures. The knowledge of good and evil therefore represents the knowledge that only God possessed at that stage. Therefore to eat the fruit of that tree was to disobey God and try to become like Him, gods themselves.

Adam and Eve, so the story goes, weer however tempted to disbelieve and disobey God leading to a fall from grace and introducing the power of sin into the world - the 'Fall' - and giving it access to theri lives. The following chapters up to Chapter 6 then chart the gradual descent into darkness that this means for God's creation which, although originally good ("very good" Gensis 1:31), now became so disfigured and corrupted that Genesis 6 tells us:

"....(so) great man's (had) wickedness on the earth.....become.....that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." (verse 5)

Look how deep that goes, right down to inclinations ('natural' tendencies) and the thoughts (mind) of his heart (centre of our being) was ONLY evil ALL THE TIME. The power of sin was now so great that it had, like a cancer, completely dominated the personality of human beings, holding sway and power over everything they did, thought and spoke. The Church has called this sin 'original' sin or 'ancestral' sin. Either way it's power is present in all of us, whether we were born with it - as Roman Catholics and many Protestants believe, - or we pick it up from the 'environment' in which we live. Either way we need saving from its power or we will eventually become so corrupted by it that we will turn away from God and 'perish' (see John 3:16) in the sense that we won't be able to enjoy the life in all its fulness with God that Jesus came to bring and God originally intended (see John 10:10).

It is THAT power that Jesus came to defeat and destroy on the cross and through the resurrection. This is made plain in Romans 6 especially in this passage from the new Living Translation of the Bible:

"5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus."

So in this sense, if we put our trust in Jesus and are united with Him in His death and resurrection through faith, living under the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, then we are 'saved' and delivered from the power of sin. But - and it is a significant 'but' - we still need to go on being 'saved' by exercising our faith, and living out the Christian life. There are still significant battles to be fought against those sin habits and tendencies at work in us, and which Paul so vividly describes to us in Romans 7. And to enable us to address these we need to walk in the power of the Spirit whilst practising the spiritual disciplines which Christ has given us as his disciples (a 'disciple or apprentice is a follower of Christ who practices certain disciplines in order to live the life Christ would live if He were you and I. See Dallas Willard article in the next post).

And so Jesus teaches us how to give alms, fast and pray (Matthew 6). The Bible talks about Biblical meditation (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1) and the need for solitude (Luke 5:16) etc. These are the 'tools' of the Christian trade that help us to engage in the fight against sin and work out "in fear and trembling" what Christ has done for us (Philippians 2:12). And it is this that is sadly lacking in so many today who look back to the moment they were 'saved' but ignore the fact that the war has been won but there are still batles to be fought. How else can we obey Christ's command to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). In other words make perfection - to be like God - your aim or goal (telos in Greek).

And so salvation is past - and begins the moment you and I respond to the call of Christ, and trust Him as our Saviour and Lord. It continues, as we offer "the parts of (y)our body to (Christ) as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13) so that sin shall no longer be our master, as we learn, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to "live no longer under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14)

And what about future? Well is the goal or aim is perfection, then when we "have fought the good fight" and "finished the race" and "kept the faith" (note all these suggest that this is our part, working with grace to grow up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2)) there will be in store for us "the crown of righteousness, which the Lord...will award (us)" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Then, and only then, will we be finally 'saved' in the fullest sense of the word.

So we can talk about being saved (past tense), but the Lord's work in us will not, as yet been completed. We can also talk in terms of being saved (present tense), as the work of God in tandom with the Spirit and through grace as we follow Jesus is ongoing. But still that work is incomplete. It is only when we have finished the race of faith that we can trully say that we are now saved (future tense) because like runners it is only when we have finished the race that we will be given the winner's crown.

Salvation - past, present and future Part 1

One thing you will quickly discover when you become a Christian is that although you know you have been saved from sin and forgiven and reconciled with God, and things have quite clearly changed in your life, old sin habits continue to persist. That flaring temper is still there, and although it is less vociferous than before, it still rise us and explodes no matter how many good intentions not to do it next time. Or you struggle with addictions to over-eating, or selfishness or gossip. What has happened? Surely now we are Christians we are "new creations"? Here is the promise from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV).

Moreover, the old 'me' has been put to death. here is another promise, this time from Paul's letter to the Galatians:

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

If it is no longer I who live but Christ, and because of His work on the cross and my faith in Him I am now a new creation, then how come I still have certain character traits and sin habits that are more like the old me rather than the new?

It is because 'salvation' - from the Greek word meaning to be healed or made whole - is a process, not an event. Unfortunately, many Christians see it as an event and talk about being saved on a particular day when they gave their life to Christ. In terms of the day I responded to what Jesus had done for me on the cross made a decision to follow Him, I can pinpoint the day as being 31st August 1981. I can, therefore, using the jargon, say that I was 'saved' on that day and in that moment. But if I was 'saved' or made whole on that day, why is it I still struggle with being whole? Why is it that I still have bouts of explosive anger, moments of selfish self-indulgence and other manifestations of sin that are completely unrepresentative of the Christ who is in me and who I now follow? If I have now become a new creation, why is it that the old still stalks me, and disfigures the character of Christ in me?

This is the problem Paul was struggling with in Romans 7:7-25 especially the following verses (15-24):

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"  

Paul then, like us, is struggling with this dilemma. He knows he has been justified by faith and reconciled with God - he has been 'saved' - and yet he is aware that the battle, instead of being won, still rages on in him and although he knows what is right and wants to do it, still struggles with the sin which shows itself so quickly and easily in his life. He talks about this sin being in his 'members' (see verse 23). There is something in his mind and body which seems to 'remember' past sin habits and chaarcter flaws and still acts them out in him.

This is not as strange as it sounds. When I injured my right hand I had to learn how to use my left hand instead while the other recovered. So I had to learn to open doors, type, hold a fork, change my clothes, brush my hair and teeth all with the unfamiliar left hand. It has been a struggle because when I have to do any of the above my right hand "moves by itself" to do them because it 'remembers' having doen them all before. Even now, when I still have to use mostly my left hand when my right hand is painful or weak, I still instinctively use my right hand, even though it is uncomfortable and sometimes painful (which is why I am taking so long to recover). The habits and routines of right hand usage over 59 years and deep seated and do not chaneg overnight. I have to learn new ways of living using the left over the right. It is frustrating, difficult and challenging. What has this got to do with salvation? See the enxt post to find out.

John Wesley and the call to faith

John Wesley was almost in despair. He did not have the faith to continue to preach. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and ...