Friday, October 31, 2008
Andy Burnham, Labour MP, is a man with ideas. He is keen to help ailing British institutions. His ideas take no notice of the purpose for which institutions exist - that would get in the way of his original ideas!
So, for example, Mr Burnham recently came up with a good idea for making libraries work better - install cafes and stop people from being quiet in them. Well, that may be pleasant in a book shop, where one looks at books and maybe buys one or two. But the unique purpose of a library is to read books which are too valuable to be borrowed. As somebody who reads a lot (I can't speak for Mr Burnham!) I can tell you that reading is very difficult when somebody is shouting in your ear for more froth on their cappuccino.
The latest idea from Mr Burnham, is that dying churches should become health gyms. In such a guise they can more effectively serve multi-faith communities. Well, it may be that a gym would do more good to people than what some churches offer - See 1 Timothy 4:8... however before we venture down that path, I have an alternative suggestion.
If you know of a vacant or almost empty church building near you, petition your bishop to get permission to have a try out. (Actually a very sport oriented idea!) have a trial of letting a man look after the building who can preach the Bible clearly and persuasively. Let him do all he can to encourage local people to listen to the good news Jesus Christ has for the world. Let him help them, one by one, family by family, to experience the transformation Jesus brings to a life. And only after that has been tried, offer out gym membership...
This is one of the sermons I preached on Sunday - it is an exploration of what it means to not only be saved by faith, but to live by faith. I attempt to deal with this by means of an exposition of Isaiah's stern warning - 'Do not go to Egypt'.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The murder of British Christian worker, Gayle Williams, in Afghanistan has put the issue of martyrdom and Christian service into the British media. It is sad watching the BBC news attempt to report the murder in a way that downplays the fact that the person was a Christian - very difficult when the publicly given reason for her death, by her executers is that she was preaching Christ.
As the evaluations by British media dilettantes are given so politely, the moral repugnance of their views can be missed for what it is. Ponder these words from The Times:
'There is an important principle here that the violence must not be allowed to obscure. The accusation that religious groups are exploiting parlous economic conditions to add numbers to their flock is a common one. There is little doubt that it has happened frequently, notably in India. The so-called “rice Christians” sought conversion, it is said, less for the hope of salvation in the next world than in the hope of survival in this.'
So while murdering a woman trying to help people is wrong - the important principle that must not be obscured by the murder - is the danger of.... Christians evangelising?
One wonders why freedom of speech should be curtailed and reduced to silent practical aid, if there happens to be people who would kill you for sharing religious beliefs they do not like? As The Times journalist goes on to call for Christians to offer aid that is practical, but does not involve also sharing their faith - one wonders, will such reporters consider acting as bravely as Gayle Williams? What would motivate a person to live as she did?
Augustine pondered the issue of what would motivate people to be willing to give up their lives. He noted in one sermon that people will indeed sacrifice their lives for many causes - wealth, romance, war and bravado. However, preaching on the anniversary of some Christian martyrs, he said:
'Real courage is that which serves God, not pride.' S.285.1.
He continued to formulate what became the classic orthodox Christian evaluation of martyrdom- It is the cause or motivation, not the suffering which makes one a martyr.
'We must remember all the time that it is not the punishment that makes a martyr, but the cause. What God delights in is our righteousness, not our sufferings.' S.2885.2.
It is a sad fact of life that some will lose their lives caring for people, for motivations that in the end will be revealed to be selfish or wicked.
If Gayle Williams gave her life, motivated by her relationship with Jesus Christ - then to question that or despise it, as some do, is a terrible thing. For in the end, it will be the despised motivation that makes her death so precious to Jesus.
It is a very foolish person who murders a Christian (Rev.6:9-16).
The person who scorns the motivations of a murdered Christian may not be much wiser...
Friday, October 03, 2008
I'm undecided - and uncomfortable about wearing clergy garb! However I have to wear some for a function coming up, and as I ponder my discomfort, I wonder - should evangelical clergy dress in secular smart casuals, or suit and clergy collar?
I came across this article about it and appreciated the author's humility in his manner.
All comments welcome...
Towards the end of his life Augustine published a short treatise called continentia - self control or restraint. It was mainly aimed at dealing with sexual lust, but he made clear that the principles he outlined were the Christian way to deal with all kinds of sin. By this stage in his ministry, Augustine has carefully engaged with Manichees, and concluded that created matter is good, not evil. He has refuted the Pelagians, and concluded that all virtue is the fruit of grace. He has dismissed the Stoics, and concluded that effort and willpower lead to sin rather than godliness. In other words, in this treatise we get the mature Augustine who could explain to others how grace impacts Christians. Here are a few quotes:
'It is not enough to keep the exterior mouth of the body under control, to ensure that nothing harmful escapes from it in its speech. There is also the internal mouth of the heart... There are many things that we do not say outwardly with our lips, but which we shout out in our heart; but not a word comes from the mouth about anything if the heart is silent about it.' 1.2
'If a man wishes to murder, but does not have opportunity - is the heart unstained? If someone wishes to steal but lacks opportunity - is he not a thief in his heart? If a woman is chaste and will not commit adultery with a man, but he wants to - is he not an adulterer in his heart? If a prostitute is not found in the street, has the man who went looking for one not already embraced impurity? If somebody says in his heart 'There is no God' but is silent publicly, is he not guilty of utter wickedness?' 2.4
'There are those who are entirely unaware of God's law, and do not even count evil desires an enemy, but in abject blindness are slaves to them, and even think they become happy by giving in to them rather than controlling them. On the other hand, there are those who know them through the law... but are still overcome by their assault... This is because they live under the law, whereby good is commanded but not also granted, and they do not live under grace, which bestows through the Holy Spirit what is commanded by the law.' 3.7
'It is grace that brings it about that sin has no dominion over you. So do not trust in yourself, lest it have even greater dominion over you because of that.' 5.12
'True continence that comes from above does not aim to suppress some evils in order to have other evils, but to cure all evils with good.' 13.28
'There are some who prictice continence because of their incontinence.' 12.26
Against those who suggested a Christian restrain sin by rationally understanding the right course of action and willing oneself to do it: 'They argue one should live according to that part of the human being that is distinctively human, that is, according to the mind, whereby the human is superior to the animals. Such an argument has some force perhaps in the philosophers' schools, but to understand Christ's apostle we ought to study the manner of speaking customary in Christian books.' 4.11
When a Christian fails - 'By a healing providence he has been abandoned by his guide for a moment, lest through fatal pride he himself abandon his guide.' 14.32
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Let's face it, most evangelistic books are pretty tame and assume the reader has no serious social or personal problem. I have not read it yet, but this looks like a book that is a bit more earthed in the realities of this actual life. Gritty stuff.
And also - I am trying to not be envious of the fact that the title 'Death by Love' is simply brilliant!
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Last week I joined Mark Meynall, Phil Whittal and Krish Kandiah at the Evangelical Alliance, for a conference on Blogging.
I was giving a presentation on the significance of Internet 2.0 for our communication of the Bible. The day was really encouraging; I think there is a lot of value in small fairly informal gatherings like this that can deal with varying aspects of Christian living. There may well be a place for big Christian events that mimic the secular world's idea of success - but I think we are on safer ground with the more relational, focused gatherings...
The podcast (With the other talks) is available to listen to or download at: