Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Permission to Speak

A while back I wrote to my local MP...

On another subject, you'll be aware of increasing concern among Christians about the proposed EU Directive on Equal Treatment, and in particular the 'Harassment Provision'. This legislation if approved would make saying anything of a religious nature that was deemed to be offensive by a third party an offence - further the burden of proof would lie on the 'offender' to prove what they said wasn't offensive to the offended! The legislation is apparently so vague as to make it impossible to anticipate what another person may regard as offensive.

All this is explained by a Professor of Law on video at the following website:

I would be grateful if you shared these concerns, about what many believe to be an insidious threat not just to religious liberty but to freedom of speech in general, if you were able to communicate them to Harriet Harman who will be discussing these proposals at the Council of Ministers. As ever thanks for your time in this and your work generally, Regards

I'm pleased to say I have now received the following reply....

Further to our previous correspondance, I have now received a reply from the Government Equalities Office regarding your concerns over the European Equal Treatment Directive, in particular the Harassment Clause.

In his reply, the Minister explains that, owing to the evidence collated during the consultation process, a harassment clause has not been included in the Equality Bill. This is because it was felt that harassment protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief was covered by other discrimination provisions or not within the scope of discrimination.

It should go without saying that the concern expressed by myself was not that Christians should be free to harass others - the teaching of Jesus is to treat all people with respect and kindness (which is not to say that we need agree with all that they do). Rather that there is a creeping trend of legislation that threatens to criminalise the expression of any views not acceptable to liberal minded secularists. This 'concession' is not likely to reverse that trend in itself - but it removes a certain level of intimidation against the expression of Christian beliefs. It is also an encouragement for us to keep on interacting with our law-makers on such matters.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bible Ready in 2010

Now is the time to organise your Bible Reading Plan for 2010 (don't want to be found short on 4th Jan!).

The ESV website has a good range of plans (which can of course be used with any version).

See HERE to check them out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Check out the new blog from John Thomson - CAVE ADULLAM

John has been a Biblical mentor to many through his articles and personal input - if there is a theology book JT hasn't read there is a good chance it hasn't actually been written - so for thoughtful and challenging theological reflections this will be a must for your 'Favourites'.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

realism & encouragement

Esther ch.4 shows how Mordecai responded to Esther’s hesitation when asked to go to King Xerxes and plead for the Jewish people. Esther’s dilemma was acute: Xerxes hadn’t shown much interest in her for about a month (4:11), ‘Vashti-gate’ (ch.1) had revealed he was no fan of independently minded women; furthermore he was the kind of guy who agreed to genocide over a beer (3:15) – so the risk, in Esther’s mind, of being put to death by him was genuine.

Mordecai response to this contained two key elements – elements that are at the heart of a balanced Christian life – realism & encouragement.

Firstly, he reminds her that the problem (the planned destruction of the Jewish people) is just as much her problem as anyone else's – she is a Jew herself after all. It is a problem that won’t go away – so she must be face up to it. Secondly though, there is encouragement – because there is an opportunity here to do something significant for God. By stepping up to deal with this problem, Esther has the chance to make her life really count and to make her mark for God’s people.

The New Testament recognises the need to hold both these truths – realism & encouragement. We need them both or we will swing to unbalanced extremes. On the one hand we need to be realistic about ourselves and the nature of the world in which we live. We have to face up to the fact of our ongoing sinful tendencies – the struggles against the flesh and just how powerful that old part of us is. Equally, there ought to be no rosy-eyed naivety about this world’s approach to God – it is not a friend of Jesus, it is at its heart implacably opposed to His rule, it is the domain of the devil and to be a Christian in it will inevitably create a tension as we go against its grain. Without such realism – we will quickly become disillusioned by the struggles of faith, doubts will creep in about the reality of God’s care and power in our lives, we will think either we’re not ‘real Christians’ or perhaps the gospel isn’t true.

On the the other hand the New Testament is a book of encouragement – because despite the real difficulties we face there can be progress. We can move forward by God’s Spirit in increasing Christ-likeness, we are not doomed to failure every time temptation arises, the Gospel can and does influence societies when it is clearly and faithfully proclaimed. Ultimately we are encouraged by the knowledge of a sure and certain hope – a future that will be safe & secure in the presence of God forever.

All realism – and we could quickly become despondent and cowed by the problems. All encouragement – and we could become triumphalist and cocky in our attitudes. Christian maturity, let me suggest, is holding the two together.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On the side of caution...

Don Carson on 1 Corinthians 8

Paul judges it dangerous for Christians to defy their consciences, because if they get in the habit of ignoring the voice of conscience, they may ignore the voice even when the conscience is well informed and is warning them off something that is positively evil. Doubtless in the long haul Paul would like these weak Christians to grow in their knowledge of Scripture and the gospel so they will not think something is evil that is not (like eating meat that had been offered to idols); but until they have reached such maturity, they must not defy their own consciences.

The Cross and Christian Ministry (p123)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

9 Marks Conf - Edinburgh, Feb 2010

9 Marks Conference 2010 @ Charlotte Chapel Edinburgh

The 9Marks Conference 2010 aims to help build healthy local churches by encouraging leaders and members to re-establish their Biblical bearings and re-think their ministry methods.

Friday 12th February 2010 (registration 6.30pm, 7pm start)
Saturday 13th February 2010 (8am-4pm)

Charlotte Chapel, 204 West Rose Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4AZ.

Who is speaking?
Mark Dever,
Capitol Hill Baptist Church , Washington D.C.
Paul Rees, Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh
Liam Garvie,
St Andrews Baptist Church , St Andrews

Full details & bookings - HERE

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Be a tent peg...

Let me play about a little with Paul’s ‘cork on the water’ metaphor – you know the one about not being tossed back and forth by the waves or blown about here and there by every wind of dodgy teaching (Eph 4:14). Paul’s point being that Christians need an anchor in their lives – otherwise they will be at the mercy of every passing trend and gimmick that rolls through church-culture.

Even as individual Christians need such anchor points (i.e. firm, stable, Bible rooted theology) – so do churches. For just as Christians can lurch from one fad to another, so can churches. You don’t have to look far to see the exhausting run-around that many seem to be caught in – a ‘new template for ministry’ every 3 years, followed by a 5 year plan, followed by the adoption of some best-selling mega-church blueprint. Then there is the need to follow the latest fashion in ‘Spirit lead’ ministry – I mean, how 1990s to still be ‘hunting demons’ when everybody is now ‘doing Transportation’ (like the guy who kept his 1970s flares I’m just waiting for the Bible to come in again!). Decade after decade we hear the confident announcement from some quarter that God is about to ‘really do something amazing’ or that the ‘start of something really world changing’ has begun. Back and forth, up and down, here and there, this runaway train careers.

Our churches need stability - firm anchor points, an allegiance to good traditions (1 Cor 11:2), and to provide constancy for pilgrims in the fickleness of life. Don’t mishear me – I’m not arguing for stagnation, or that we fossilise in a particular era of church culture. What we do need, however, is a maturity and a realism about the world – that as much as things change, underneath they stay the same.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on making ‘it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands’? Hardly inspirational world changing stuff we think – no, we all want to be leaders, radicals, cutting edge revolutionaries – or at least we labour under the burden of such sermons, books and altar calls. Yet, that call to get on with ‘ordinary life’ is exactly what Paul tells the Thessalonians to do (1 Th 4:11). Of course some, like Paul, are called to extraordinary ministries – but even in the 1st Century most Christians weren’t Paul*. Most had ordinary jobs, went to their local ‘ordinary’ churches, got on with raising families, being responsible citizens and good neighbours. They did what the Bible asked them to do – ‘win the respect of outsiders’ while ‘holding out the word of life’ (1 Th 4:12 / Php 2:16).

They lived out their faith day by day, month by month, year by year – they were the steady & reliable 'salt & light' of their communities that avoided the boom & bust of so much contemporary Christianity. They gave stability to the church – they resisted the lure of quick fixes, flash in the pan theology and ministry by management technique. It is upon their faithfulness that the church kept going between revivals. When the storms of opposition came or the giddy rush of ‘success’ that blew others adrift - they kept grounded in God’s Word.

They were the ‘tent pegs’ that kept the apostolic tent in place over the centuries. Not much glamour in that – constantly having the tension of being pulled elsewhere, being called a ‘stick in the mud’ for your lack of enthusiasm for ‘all things new’, doing the dull dirty work of maintaining the foundations – but like those parts of body that seem ‘less honourable’ they are the very parts deserving of ‘special honour’ (1 Cor 12:23).

So be a tent peg – the church needs you more than ever.

*John Newton famously commented after applying to himself God’s promise to Paul not to be afraid because had ‘many people in this city’ (Acts 18:10) – that it wasn’t long before he realised that ‘John was no Paul & Warwick was no Corinth’.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All that glitters is not gold

Kevin DeYoung does it again - another spot-on blog. This time on the 'New Gospel' that is so prevelant in the evangelical world today.

Read it HERE.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Atheism's Poster Child

Those benign & freedom loving humanists & atheists have now turned their hostility to religious faith onto, among others, Christian parents with a new poster campaign. With great moral superiority, Christian Mums & Dads are now being told that bringing up their children in an environment of Christain belief and practise is oppressive and intellectually abusive. To be honest I hadn't noticed that our society was being taken to the dogs by hordes of havoc reeking young people with Christian values - or that NHS counselling units were filled with people from secure family backgrounds unable to function normally because they had been brought up with a sense of identity.

But of course, what is driving this campaign is not really a concern for the mental or social welfare of children - but a deep hostility to freedom of religion, a failure to recognise their own presuppositions, and an intolerant desire to impose their world-view on all others. And if that sounds a bit rich from someone with strong evangelical beliefs then let me explain...
1. The poster above could only come from people with a real blindeness about their own belief system. Humanists & Athiests like to believe that they possess some moral and intellectual objectivity when it comes to assessing reality. That is, they think of themselves of having a vantage point that stands over all those primitive, unthinking, blinkered religious groups. They alone can see 'things' clearly - their superior reasoning has worked out what real right & wrong are, what truth is, and how the world actually works. Obviously having such exalted knowledge means that they see themselves as uniquely placed to decide what is, among many other things, best for everyone elses' children. I mean, you can't leave such matters in the hands of weak-minded religious fools.
But Humanistic Atheism is just another belief system, just another group's analysis of the world, just another human standpoint. It is no less arrogant than any religious standpoint. Obviously because I believe my Christian analysis of the world is correct - I think the world would be better off if everyone else held it too. Likewise Humanists obviously think the world would be better off if everyone shared their take on it. So when it comes to arrogance & narrow mindedness - Humanists & Athiests have absolutely no high ground over religious people. They look at the world, they come to conclusions, they think their conclusions are right - so join the club and stop this nauseating pretence to some special objectivity.
2. This means that Humanists (if they are honest), like religious people, want children to be brought up according, not to 'neutral values', but to their values. Are atheistic humanists really telling us that they tell their children that 'religious beliefs' are just as valid as non-religious ones, that Christianity may well be true, and that they would celebrate the possibility of their little ones becoming evangelical Christians? You see, the great indoctrination that humanists want to inculcate in all children is the belief that God is essentially a matter of indifference. Because to say to a child it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not - is to bring them up to believe that God can't matter much. Afterall there are obviously no consequences of a wrong choice that your parents feel you should be protected from. So surprise surprise most 'humanist children' grow-up not to be very religious - because they have consistently been taught the message that 'it's no big deal'.
I wonder if Humanists believe that teaching children that racism is wrong is an abuse of their intellectual & moral rights. Surely to be consistent Humanists should say to children regarding racism, 'well some people think black people are inferior but you need to make your own mind up about that'. That Humanists (rightly) wouldn't bring children up that way is because they think that it really matters what you think about other races - because how you think about them will ultimately manifest itself in how you treat them.
Well Christian parents, who man for man & woman for woman, have just as many brain cells, Degrees, PhDs etc, realise that if God exists (and which their intellectual & moral analysis of the world leads them to believe is the case) - then that is really really important! In fact because what we think about God will affect how we treat God (relate to Him & thus how He relates to us) then it is really important that children have guidance in such matters. Indeed not to bring up children in such a way would be the real abuse & negligence.
See a similar post here:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's under your bonnet?

I’ve had my full driving license for about 20 years now – in that time I’ve owned four cars and driven various others. I think of myself as a fairly capable driver – only one ‘bump’ over the years. But for all that 'driving experience' I actually know little about what makes a car work. I couldn’t explain to you the workings of the internal combustion engine and other than a few obvious bits (like the battery) the machinery under the bonnet is a mystery to me.

For many the Christian life is approached similarly. We know our way around the ‘controls’, we have a competence in operating the system – but we are often ignorant of its internal workings. Which means, that like myself and engines, we often only have a superficial knowledge of how God actually works in us (and indeed His church).

Lots of the time that might not seem to matter too much – we’re just interested in getting from ‘A to B’ and the mechanics at our garage can look after the ‘nuts & bolts’. The ‘nuts and bolts’ in the case of the Christian life being doctrine. However, what if my mechanic is poorly trained himself or a bit of an ‘Arthur Daley’? I mean, when my car mechanic makes that sucking noise with his mouth and says, 'sorry mate, you need a new carburretor' – who am I to argue? Many are the stories of expensive and dangerously poor advice given to naive car owners.

Too often Christians think about doctrine in the way I think about oil filters – a dull subject you either know about because you’re paid to or are just a bit nerdy. But understanding what’s under the bonnet is vital if we are to: (a) avoid being at the mercy of dodgy advice, (b) figuring out why something isn’t working and (c) ensure that the engine is running smoothly.

Because if you get the air & fuel mix wrong (e.g. too much activity & not enough prayer), or calibrate a key component incorrectly (e.g. set justification to ‘infused’ instead of ‘imparted’), or let the suspension seize up (e.g. neglect eschatology), or forget to allow differentials between wheels (e.g. have a right view of the Trinity) – then no amount of ‘driving skill’ will make up for a seriously crocked car.

Better get back to the owners’ manual!

Monday, November 09, 2009

The End of History

‘This used to be God’s country, but not anymore – and thank God for that’
A History of Scotland (BBC)

Thus, with a sound bite to make Alan Partridge shout, 'Back of the net!', BBC Scotland’s Neil Oliver ended his assessment of the Scottish Covenanters. Oliver took the utterly predictable and increasingly, it seems, BBC mandated line of telling us what an awful bigoted bunch religious people are. The Covenanters, we were told, were a ruthless power-hungry mob intent on turning Scotland into the kind of fundamentalist state that would have made the Taliban blush.

What is particularly depressing is the ‘a-historical’ nature of such programmes. That is, they seem (wilfully) ignorant of any historical perspective. Thus people and events can only be evaluated through the lense of twenty-first century liberal eyes. So the Covenanters were ‘extreme’ in their religious beliefs – but who wasn’t in the 17th Century? The Covenanters ideal was a nation converted to Presbyterian Christianity – as if the Catholic Church or the Episcopal Church would have been less zealous for their own faiths. Neil Oliver might like to think, had he lived in 1638, that he would have stood ‘above’ such squabbles but he would just have reflected the worldview of whatever 'extreme' sect he belonged to (as he clearly does in his own time).

Like Neil Oliver, I’m not a trained historian (although my wife has a first class MA in History & agrees with me if that counts?) but it seems to me that you primarily need to judge historical figures and events in their historical context. Thus the extent that something was positive or negative needs to be seen in the social & political climate of that time. For example, the Magna Carta would hardly seem a radical charter for human rights today - but it most certainly was in 1215 (something that historians like Simon Schama seem to grasp). Therefore in the context of the 17th century the desire of the Covenanters to resist state controlled religion (whatever their other shortcomings) is surely something to celebrate rather than discredit. But one wonders, if Neil Oliver is not so much interested in the 17th century as pushing a twenty-first century secularist agenda.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Just 'words'?

Kevin DeYoung on why 'words' are rightly and properly at the heart of our worship and walk...

In a similar & overlapping vein here are the 10 reasons we cite in the GV Preaching Course for the centrality of 'Word Ministry'...

1. God primarily reveals Himself / makes Himself known through His Word (i.e. His words communicated).
Thus even where God reveals Himself in ‘act’ we nevertheless only understand those acts through ‘word’ witnesses (e.g. our knowledge of Jesus’ life is through the written word accounts of the apostolic witness).
(Hb 1:1-2; Jn 20:31; ‘The Word of the Lord came to…’, ‘God spoke to….’ etc.)

2. God acts/works through words.
e.g. Genesis 1 is prototypical here: God speaks and brings creation from nothing, light from darkness, life from deadness, order from chaos etc.
(Ezk 37:1-10; Acts 6:7, 12:24, 13:49, 19:20; Hb 1:3, 4:12; 1 Pet 3:5,7)

3. God is distinct from his Word in His being (i.e. ontologically) but not in how He is savingly known (i.e. epistemologically).
That is, a saving knowledge of God is not divisible from knowing His Word.
(Gen 15:1,4; 1 Sam 3:21; Jn 3:34, 4:41, 6:68; Acts 20:32)

4. God inspired the written Word of Scripture.
Thus what the Bible says – God says.
(2 Tim 3:16; Hb 3:7; 2 Pt 1:21)

5. God’s Word is the means through which God brings people to salvation (applied by the Holy Spirit).
(Jam 1:18; 1 Pt 1:23, Mk 4, Jn 5:24; Jn 6:68; Eph 1:13)

6. God’s Word is the means of sustaining new life and transforming His people (applied by the Holy Spirit).

(Jn 17:6,17; 1 Cor 15:2; Php 2:15-16; Col 5:16, Titus 2:1-5; Jam 1:21-23; 1 Jn 2:5; Rev 1:2-3.)

7. God’s relationship with His people is by covenant - that is, it is essentially promissory and thus established in words.
(Gen 12:1-3;Titus 1:1-3; Ps 119:74, 130:5)

8. God’s authority is exercised through His Word.
(‘Thus says the Lord’, Ex 20:1ff; Dt 18:19; Josh 23:6; Mt 7:26; Mk 8:38)

9. The Gospel is a message to be communicated – a message that must be heard (read) and understood to be effective.
(Romans 10:14,17; Col 1:5-6; 1 Th 2:13; 2 Cor 2:13)

10. Teaching the Word is the key task of God’s servants.
(Acts 6:2, 20:17-32; 2 Tim 2:15, 4:1-5; Hb 13:7)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Noughties Nostalgia

BBC 3 ran the first of two programmes reveiweing the Noughties - the decade that unbelievably is almost over! As 2009 draws to a close I found it fascinating to think of all the things that only became part of life post the Millenium Dome.... (look out for a whole new batch of sermon illustrations!)....

1. Weird Baby Names
2. The Da Vinci Code
3. Metrosexual men
4. Sat Navs
5. Civil Partnerships
6. Ipods
7. Simon Cowell
8. Celebrity business people (The Apprentice & Dragon's Den)
9. Plasma TVs
10. ASBOs
11. Charity Muggers (Chuggers)
12. Size Zero
13. Shock Docs ('Half Ton Man' etc)
14. Botox
15. Five-a-day
16. Coffee Shops
17. Internet Shopping
18. Obsession with property (Location, Location, Location)
18. Militant Atheism

...and we're not even at the top 50 yet.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The church I go to...

Dara O’Briain has a book out this Christmas entitled ‘Ticking the English’ – it’s an Irishman’s observations on the British. He notes that we British are a very self deprecating bunch – it is in our DNA always to find the downside in ourselves and to play down even significant achievements. He notes the recent news that average life expectancy in the UK has now risen to 79 years old – a remarkable attainment and something that puts us among the most privileged people on the planet. We have, he notes dryly, pushed back the Grim Reaper himself and extended the very bounds of mortality – yet this news is announced in the British Press, in terms that only the British could come up with - 'PENSION TIMEBOMB!'

Our church culture is not immune from ‘glass half empty’ perspectives – we readily, too readily at times, run ourselves down – our natural disposition is self-flagellation. Well as someone, often guilty of such an approach, let me attempt to redress the balance by stating some of the many good things about the church I go to (no it’s not perfect - not by a long-shot but this is Fallen world after-all), but it's my church and I love it because….

The church I go to has two Toddlers groups with lots of non-Church carers and kids who mix with and get to know Christians;

The church I go to has a cafĂ©, staffed by volunteers, which is regularly full of non-Church people – being served by Christians in a warm & friendly church environment;

The church I go to has a Kids Club and a Youth Club where non-Church kids get to hear about the gospel and their parents get to have contact with Christians.

The church I go to has started doing Community Litter Pick-ups and Free Car Washes in order to serve its local community;

The church I go to provides meals for families who have recently had a baby to show them care and practical support,

The church I go to has a football outreach to unchurched teenagers in a nearby housing scheme;

The church I go to runs Christianity Explored courses twice a year so that non-Christians can get to explore the Gospel in an environment suited to them;

The church I go to is often full and has a steady inflow of visitors;

The church I go to is committed to preaching the Bible itself – and allows me to hear God’s Word explained both by those in full-time Christian service and by people who work in education, law, health services, business, social services, and policing among others;

The church I go to is kept in really good condition and feels modern and comfortable;

The church I go to has a group of talented musicians who thoughtfully lead us in edifying praise and worship;

The church I go to has regular Missionary reports and helps to support Mission by regular prayer and financial giving;

The church I go to is connected by an email Prayer Chain to keep me informed about prayer requests and to remind me to pray;

The church I go to has an annual week long Kids Club which is run by loads of Christian volunteers and attracts loads of children from within and without the church;

The church I go to has an Easter Egg Hunt & short service in a local park when we have fun and share with others the wonderful news of a Risen Saviour;

The church I go to … when I think about it, is a place that I am very privileged to be a member of (I spent 12 years in church with 15 members so I know not to take the above for granted!).

Don’t worry I’m sure normal service will be resumed – but as Churchill said on VE Day – although there is still much to do, many difficulties and battles to be fought, ‘we may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing’ – just once in a while (Php 4:8).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Arts & The Church

Thoughtful and constructive piece by Kevin DeYoung on some of the issues previously discussed on this blog...

Monday, October 19, 2009

A prayer for our children

Heavenly Father

I want to pray for my child(ren) and lift them up before you now.

I pray not that they might have wealth, or be academically outstanding, or have a successful career. I pray not that they will be popular - or even that they will live comfortably and be free of stress and harships.

But I pray that they will know you, love you and serve you - that they will be followers of Jesus, men and women of God with the hope of heaven in their hearts. Grant it that they might know none of this world's achievements if they would in any way come between them and following Jesus Christ wholeheartedly.

Lord, you know that even as I pray these things that a huge part of me is pulling away from them. My motives are mixed - I want it all, and fear the cost of discipleship for myself & my children. But Lord hold me to my word - and honour those right and true things I have prayed for - even when other parts of me were crying 'no'.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

No getting away from it!

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

He was a very busy man - But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

He only had a limited time in which to complete His work - But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

He faced constant demands and requests from people - But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

He had great gifts and abilities that the world desperately needed - But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Response

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus comes to His hometown. Nazareth is gripped by expectancy as its most famous son returns – the news of His exploits elsewhere on everyone’s lips. He begins to read from the book of Isaiah – the message is all about ‘good news’. It’s a message of freedom & favour. The people love it, ‘All spoke well of him’ (v22). Jesus it seems has struck just the right note – everyone feels uplifted & encouraged. The speaker has been a hit – 'let’s make sure we get Him on the programme next year!'

But – CLUNK – Jesus doesn’t take the chance to say ‘Amen’ and hit the buffet on a high. No – He goes on and the atmosphere suddenly changes. The message becomes a little personal – it starts to challenge the congregation’s presumptions about who ‘Isaiah’s blessings’ are for. Jesus turns the screw on them – His words now are not so reassuring but warning and challenging. The response: ‘All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this’ (v28). And it had all been going so well….

Jesus is our model for ministry – He tells good news but doesn’t side-step the bad news. We want to have ministry that stops at v22 – so our sermons skip over v’s 23-27. We want the feel good verses so we read out a Psalm in church – but stop when we get to the verses about the wicked or wrath, etc.

If we adopt a church culture that is all about the nice stuff in God’s Word while missing out the tough stuff we will eventually develop an unBiblical worldview - a Christian worldview that is distorted, incomplete and wanting. So don't be afraid of ministry that isn’t all ‘pats on the back’ – you’ll be in good company!

Friday, October 02, 2009

The eXcellent Factor (again)

After stirring up a bit of debate on the subject of ‘excellence’ recently (thanks to those who posted comments) – let me add a further thought on this topic.

Excellence is good – we rightly enjoy and praise excellent food, music, football, woodwork, etc etc. We may not always be able to define exactly what ‘excellence’ is but we know it when we see (hear) it. However, appreciating when things are excellent and, as it were, requiring excellence need not go hand in hand. Because if we make the attainment of excellence central to how we do things in ministry – we risk ‘professionalising’ ministry and only attaching real value to the contributions of a highly gifted elite in the church.

The church is described in the NT as a family – so what is good and true our domestic families should hold good in the church family. So what therefore is the place of excellence in our homes? Do we forbid our children to pray at the dinner table because they're not, let’s be honest, very eloquent? Is the best reader in the house the only one who can read the Bible out loud at bed time? Should Mum always cook the dinner because she has the most experience?

I’m much more comfortable the idea of people doing their best and being appreciated for that (even when it’s not ‘excellent’). The church is a family – and families need to give space and time for its members to develop gifts, make mistakes, have off-days and grow in an environment of encouragement, support and appreciation. You know that feeling you get when your child is excluded by other kids from taking part in something (because ‘they’re rubbish’) – I wonder how God feels when it happens to His children?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Ups & Downs of Temptation

Interview with David Walliams in The Times Magazine (26/9/09).

“Low self-esteem,” he goes on, “draws you to something like performing. I remember reading a book about Robbie Williams, it said, ‘He’s got low self-esteem but a big ego’. That’s probably what most performers have got. Otherwise you wouldn’t look to this external thing to make you happy.”

The Lord has really been opening up the first chapters of Luke to me of late. In ch.4 we have recorded the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. In the second temptation Satan offers Jesus not, as I always thought, all the kingdoms of the world – but ‘all their authority and splendour’ (v6). Interesting. The devil has been given ownership of their ‘authority and splendour’ – and he can give those things to whoever he wants (v6). It should, at the very least, make us revisit our amibitions in life – whether personal, business or Christian. We are so easily dazzled by the bright lights of ‘success’ – ‘it must be ok or the Lord wouldn’t be blessing it’, we say. But who is ‘blessing’ the cults, pagan religion, Hugh Heffner, Saudi Arabia….etc – with their manifestations of ‘authority and splendour’? The devil wants to give us ‘authority and splendour’ – but beware of his terms & conditions (v7).

Finally, at the end of the temptations we read that the devil left Jesus ‘until an opportune time’ (v13). As I thought about what those ‘opportune’ times were, two immediately came to mind. Firstly, on the eve of Calvary – Jesus said, ‘the prince of this world is coming’ (Jn 14:30). At the point of greatest stress, in the face of inescapable suffering– the devil makes a move on Jesus – but, praise His name, ‘He has no hold on me’.

But, secondly, the other ‘opportune time’ that came to mind was, on the face of it, an unexpected moment. A moment of great affirmation, recognition and break-through for Jesus – the moment Peter finally acknowledges Him as the Messiah, the Son of God (Mt 16:16). And it is precisely at that moment of ‘success’ in ministry – that Satan also makes a move on Jesus ....Because Jesus, as you are this special & amazing person you ought to get special treatment, not for you the way of the Cross, no, no, no… But there is no chink of pride or ego to be played upon in the heart of Jesus Christ – and the seduction is rebuked out of hand (v22-23).

We, however, do not generally fare so well under either aggravation or adulation – the devil sees opportunities to bring us down in both. A wise saint once prayed: ‘give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread. (Pr 30:8). He knew the pitfalls of the extremes (v9).

Our prayers would be seasoned with much wisdom if they asked: ‘Lord, give me neither low self-esteem or a big ego’.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Saturday Nights at Greenview 09-10

New SNAG Programme - each evening commences at 7.30pm (cafe open from 7pm).

Whatever happened to…?
The forgotten beliefs of the evangelical church.

Sat 10th October 09
Creation (‘All of Scripture is a footnote to Genesis’)
Bob Fyall

Sat 14th November 09
The Church (Bride or Bridesmaid? Getting our priorities right.)
Stephen McQuoid

Sat 12th December 09

Heaven & Hell (Metaphors or Realities?)
Jim McLatchie

Sat 16th January 10

Revival (Real renewal not ‘boom & bust’)
Ian Shaw

Sat 13th February 10

Original Sin (Real evil in a real world)
Alasdair Fyfe

Sat 20th March 10

The Second Coming (Stagnation or Expectation?)
Edward Lobb

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Danger! Ministry is too Good.

An expression I find myself using a lot in ministry is: ‘your strengths are also your weaknesses’. So, for example, someone whose great strength is getting things done and being very efficient can often have the downside of not being very sensitive to the opinions or feelings of others as they plough ahead with their projects – but if they were then they probably wouldn’t get so much done etc etc.

This is one of life’s paradoxes and dilemmas – being great in one area often comes with a cost in other areas. However, where this kind of trade-off becomes too much – is when we trade the most important thing for some secondary aspect of it. Let me try and explain….

I’m a great fan of the '5-Live Film Review' podcast with Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo. It's a popular programme due to the wit, dry banter, and eloquence of the presenters. However, despite its acclaim the presenters noted to one guest that their verdicts on films didn’t seem to affect whether listeners went to see them or not. The guest (Jeremy Isaacs) commented in response, ‘you’ve transcended your subject matter’. That is, people just listen to enjoy the chat and comment rather than to be informed by its content.

I think, as a preacher, I experienced an almost physical pang on hearing that observation. In other words the performance was so good that the content had become irrelevant. There is a big danger here for our churches – a pursuit of excellence in presentation that supercedes content. So what matters most is style, professionalism, slickness, feel and experience – and the subtlety of this danger is that whereas we think a preoccupation with ‘excellence’ faciltates the communication of truth – it actually in many cases obscures it.

I note, with some concern, a fixition in some places that preachers should preach without notes. The thinking being that the message will be communicated much more effectively by a person able to walk the platform, have uninterrupted eye contact and speak without apparent reference to memory aids. I have seen this done and then cringed when the listeners applauded at the end – clearly more impressed by his ‘no hands’ skill than challenged by the content of what was said. It was said of Jonathan Edwards that he preached holding his notes about an inch from his nose (he was short sighted) holding a candle in the other hand so as to read them in the evening gloom – but as he preached men clung to the pillars of the church such was the fear of God that came upon them.

What is a danger in preaching ministry is also true in 'praise ministry' – so that the sensation and experience of the medium becomes more important and valued than its content. A similar thing happened in some Charismatic circles where just having spiritual experiences, such as speaking in tongues, effectively became the most important factor in people’s faith. So Charismatic Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists etc could all get together irregardless of their views on justification or sanctification – because such beliefs effectively became secondary to the experience of spiritual gifts. We can see the same potential danger with music & praise in some quarters – serious doctrinal issues can be ignored because what ultimately matters is just enjoying the same worship and music ‘experience’.

But the doctrinal content of the gospel matters – as does it being understood. Great preaching or praise is not ultimately about delivery, eloquence, skill or sensation – it must be about the comprehension of truth or it is dust. So let’s be wary in all our ministries that we aren’t trying to be so good that we leave behind what matters.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Zambia Calling (6)

Day 23 (Above: The Witch Doctor we met in Makalulu / Admiring the Victoria Falls.

Last blog before I head home - now down in Livingstone at the Zimbabwe border. The 8 hour bus ride here (and same again tomorrow when I return to Lusaka) - worth it for the chance to visit the Victoria Falls.

The past week has been full on with activities - on Tuesday I did some outreach work in a township called (Makalulu) outside Kabwe. I went round with a Pentecostal pastor handing out free Christian newspapers. People (with the exception of a few JW's) were all immediately ready to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour - my Pentecostal brother was translating. The Lord knows their hearts and we prayed for them. The conditions were pretty bad - John Speirs (who was with another group) remarked that he had visited the slums in India but at least they had order to them - these 'were just a shambles'. We also intruded on a Witch Doctor session - we prayed for those there - my Pentecostal brother really got into 'his stride' at this point rebuking a multitude of spirits.

From Wed to Frid it was north to the Copperbelt and visits to a Christian school, a building project to house street kids and seeing the literature work of SGM.

Anyway tomorrow back to Lusaka and then Tuesday home.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Zambia Calling (5)

Day 12
Above: Two 'Hunters' - with Smart Fundi ('Fundi' is Bemba for Hunter) & sorting the beans for dinner - no broken teeth! )

Feeling a bit more relaxed now my 'George Verwer Warm-up' talk to over 500 people is over. I spoke on the subject of 'Called & Commissioned' from Jeremiah 1 - the need for Biblical faithfulness rather than success as the basis of our 'Call & Commission' whether in the local church or Mission field. Today I lead a workshop on 'Integrity & Zeal in Christian Ministry'.

My UK room-mates (I'm staying in guest-lodge called 'Diakonia') all left on Saturday after the PABCM. I'm now sharing with a two South Africans and a Canadian who lives in Vienna - all working with OM. Proc-Christo college is progressing a merger with OM which it hopes will open up more opportunities (through OM's network) to get its Missionaries into other countries.

The Pro-Chrsito vision is to mobilse Africans supported by African churches to go to the Mission field (starting in the unreached places of the continent. This means a big culture change for many African churches who have left financial support for Mission to outside donors. The hope is to break this dependence and get the local churches to take responsibility for a new generation of indigenous workers. The Africans have the great advantage of being accepted in many places where 'white workers' are viewed with suspicion or just seen for their 'cash value'. The Africans also are prepared often to work in conditions and accept hardships that many Westerners baulk at. So there is the sense of God starting something new in Africa. Exciting times.

One worker from Botswana (Helen) gave her report last night - she talked about the absence of any 'marriage culture' among the people she was trying to reach & the neglect of children due to a drinking culture (kids are out in the streets late at night). It struck me that many areas of Glasgow are just the same - there are many outward differences but the spiritual issues are just the same. People are in darkness and only the Gospel can bring light.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Zambia Calling (4)

Day 10 (above GV & Melvin, myself & Alfred).

The Pan-Africa Brethren finished last night with a Breaking of Bread service – a little taster of heaven with all 5 continents represented. The African ‘assemblies’ are wrestling with the familiar ‘traditional’ v’s ‘progressive’ tensions – complicated even more by the issue of separating Western (colonial) culture from African culture. If we think it’s legalistic to insist that men wear a shirt & tie to church – how much more so in African villages!

This morning a group of us had tea at the home of a local Missionary – which was a chance to meet George Verwer (GV) and chat. He asked me why he hadn’t been invited to speak at Greenview – so John Mowat get on the job! Describing his passion for Mission, GV said that the big gospel issues of a real heaven & hell, the uniqueness of Christ, the call to radical & costly discipleship were so huge and pressing that he really wasn’t interested in speaking to people about Communion Cups and their favourite Bible translations (not that anyone had brought these subjects up incidently) – I think it was a word for the ‘assemblies’!

I also chatted to Alferd (see pic) who has been working as a Missionary in the Kalahri desert in northern SA. Big challenges there, apart from the harshness of the conditions, include corrupted Christianity – pastors in some churches who double as Witch Doctors out of hours. It is a classic NT scenario – people embracing Christianity but wanting to hold onto their old pagan ways.

The Pro-Christo conf starts today, it will be a much more grass-roots affair – e.g. more basic food, lots of people squashed into the accommodation, & fewer foreign missionaries.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Zambia Calling (3)

George Verwer speaking at the PABCM, Zambia (13/8/09)

Day 8

Spent yesterday morning standing in slow African bank queues - Lloyds-TSB had decided not to risk my account being plundered in deepest Africa and refused my card (I suppose I should be grateful). So after visiting two banBoldks and a phone call to London I can get money again.

On Monday I lead a workshop on 'Building Uniy in Leadership Teams' - again my apprehension was that I would miss the mark coming into an African context. Not to mention I was given 1hr 30mins - like I've got an hour & a half of material on 'Team Building'! But our African brothers thankfully had plenty to say and we actually ran out of time. I can confirm that the Brethren are alive and well here - a brother from Congo DR wanted me to settle a dispute in his church about whether the Communion cup should be one shared cup or if individual ones are ok. I made some general comments about 'matters of judgement & grace'. Then another brother stood up and said, 'but you've not answered his question, what is he to use?'

This week is the Pan-African Brethen Conf on Missions - and we've been blessed with challenging ministry and inspiring reports from the African missionaries in Southern Africa. George Verwer is here and if he's nervous about speaking after me on Saturday he's covering it well.

Why is Western Discipleship so weak? Because we don't follow it through - we all say we believe God is provider but stop there. Do we really believe it? - if so why are so many of us resisting God's call to serve for financial reasons? And as for evangelism....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Zambia Calling (2)

Day 5 (Above: with some of the elders at Chindwin Chuch)

Weather chilly in evenings & morning, fairly windy but otherwise hot!

Preached yesterday in a small Brethren church (I say small, 193 people - I know the exact figure because at the end the secretary stood up and announced it). Isaac one of the Pro-Christo leaders came with me and translated - I was very anxious, wondering if what I said would be relevant, or too basic, too Western etc etc. I spoke on Zacchaeus and the Lord helped greatly as it was translated into Bemba - a few people even said they followed the 'English cut'.
Afterwards over biscuits & Sprite with the elders Isaac told us how he had gone to be a missionary among the 'bush men' in Botswana - a totally unreached people. He told them the gospel but no response - they wouldn't accept anything not approved by the Chief. So for the next 18 months Isaac didn't preach - he just lived among them - and they watched him. He said that it was a place you could be easily killed if you weren't 'careful and prayerful'. They tested him, they took all his food to see what he would do. For 11 days he had no food and prayed - asking God to show him what to do. On the 11th day the people appeared with a goat for him - he had passed their 'test' - and the Chief had sent the goat. After that he started preaching and people started getting saved.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Zambia Calling (1)

Been in Zambia for 3 days now - staying with the Principal of Po-Christo Bible College Melvin Chiombe. Already humbled by the dedication and sacrifical attitude of the African Christians in their desire to reach their countrymen & women with the Gospel. My first ministry task was to give a devotional talk to the students - but was more impressed by their spirit of praise (no instruments just fabulous voices) and prayer.

Ministry today (Sat) was carrying chairs and mopping kitchen floors (lots of rat poo!) in preparations for the fothcoming conferences - The 'Pan African Brethen Conf for Missions' this week & the 'Pro-Christo/OM' conf from Sat 15th.

Preaching tomorrow at a local church with Melvin translating - he has to do it as 'no-one else will understand your accent in the first place'.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Blue Parakeet

For those with a bit more time to spare Tom Schreiner has reviewed a book by fellow theologian Scott McKnight - The Blue Parakeet.

In the five posts Schreiner outlines and critiques McKnights (widely used) approach to how the Bible should be applied today. See HERE

Blog: The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

Friday, July 24, 2009

Leadership - Corinthian or Christian?

Been reading through Don Carson's book 'The Cross and Christian Ministry - Leadership Lessons in 1 Corinthians' (Baker, 2003). Below is a summary of my notes on Ch.4 'The Cross and Christian Leadership'.

Why does being a ‘leader’ appeal to us?
- being the best
- being successful
- being well-known
- being respected
- being important

The Corinthians misunderstood the true nature of Christian Leadership
- they created a Celebrity Culture (1 Cor 1:12; 2:4)
- they were obsessed with power & glamour (1 Cor 1:26ff; 4:8)
- they were preoccupied with superficial spirituality (1 Cor 14)
- they were easily seduced by performance & oratory (2 Cor 10:10; 11:6).

In 1 Cor 4 – Paul needs to remind them what true Christian Leadership is….
V1 Christian Leaders are people
- who are ‘servants of Christ’
- and ‘entrusted with the secret things of God’

That is, they are people under authority and their privilege is to make known the Gospel.

- things that are true of all Christians but are especially to be modelled and understood by church leaders.
- so Christian leadership is not about being in some elite category but exemplifying what should be true of all Christians

Key characteristic of Christian Leadership – is being a keeper of the Gospel
- making it known & living it out.
- everything else is ultimately secondary: e.g. management, strategy, planning skills

Those who have been given a Trust must prove faithful (v2-4)
- Christian Leaders primary responsibility is towards God
- Paul is not interested in the opinion of human courts: only God’s verdict matters

Even our feelings – need to take second place in Leadership (v3)
- important: big temptation to use Leadership to get personal satisfication / reward
- Christian Leadership must always be about serving God and others.

- the Corinthians were proud, self satisfied and triumphalist (v8)

In contrast – Paul sees his leadership (apostleship) as one of humility (v9)
- those at the back of the prisoners parade – destined for the arena (v9)
- people whose calling is hunger, thirst, rags, brutal treatment, hard work… (v11)

Christian Leadership follows in the footsteps of Jesus
- Suffering, cross bearing, death to self-interest.
- Leaders are those called to suffer the most.

The extent to which we find this alien to our thoughts of leadership is the extent to which we are more Corinthian than Christian in our thinking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Evangelicals & Secularists United

Great piece by Rod Liddle (yes, the very same scourge of evangelicals) on just how hair-tearingly pointless 'Thought for the Day' is - one thing that evangelicals and secularists can finally agree on:

My thought for the day: God has left the BBC building.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In the beginning...

As the world remembers those quaint old days when people went to the Moon (and weren't even able to twitter about it!) - here is a clip from a BBC documentary describing the first orbit of the moon by Apollo 8 on Christmas eve 1968 (NB that was 8 months before the first landing for non space-nerds).

It brings home the vastness of creation and God's greatness in a way that can't fail to send a shiver down the spine...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Hope for 'Ordinary Joes'

An article by Sally Morgenthaler in Christianity Today entitled
'Does Ministry Fuel Addictive Behavior?', includes the following observation to encourage the ordinary footsoldiers of full-time ministry...

Researchers at studied attendance trends in 120,000 congregations between 1990 and 2000. Half were mainline, half evangelical. They found that the fastest growing churches were those with attendance between 1,000 and 2,000 (a 13.2 percent growth rate in 10 years.) In other words, American churchgoers were voting with their feet, and increasing numbers voted for big. The congregations that declined the most were those with between 50 and 300 attendees.

If that's true, that's not so good news for the small to medium-sized church. And it can be absolutely devastating to the pastors who lead them.
For over two decades, the entrepreneurial, multi-programmed church has been altering what people expect out of a church. The music they hear when they settle into their auditorium seats must compete with what's on their iPod. High-end visual technology during the worship service is, for many attendees, a given. In short, churchgoers expect a Sunday morning worship service to match their aesthetic experiences in the broader culture.

It doesn't stop at worship. It extends to the quality of childcare, children's and teen's programs, and adult education. The consumer-driven, felt needs-based ministry has redefined what church is and does. The concept of the church leader has also changed.

Entrepreneurial church wisdom is that pastors must be visionaries, risk-takers, and innovators, as well as spiritual guides. They are expected to be top-of-the-heap speakers as well, their stage skills honed to the highest cultural standards.

Realistically, very few pastors are cut out for this kind of leadership.
The average pastor may be at his best as teacher, coach, or theological guide. He might shine as a catalyst: a convener of collaborative vision and process; a facilitator of deep community. If he tends toward the empathetic and intuitive, he may excel as a nurturer, counselor, wound-dresser, or heart-holder.
But he is not megachurch material.

Still, he makes the trek each year to the mecca-church of his choice. He takes copious notes in workshops, hoping to find the secret passage to "church success." He leaves these multi-million-dollar facilities with eyes big as saucers, telling himself that he, too, if he tries hard enough, can take his church of 90 or 200 and make it a 2,000-attendee destination point.

And what if he doesn't have the assertive, sole-visionary style? He'll learn it. He'll even fake it. He'll become someone else, invalidate and dismiss his own gifts, his own unique, God-given leadership style and strengths and passions, all in order to emulate the large church pastor he's admired from afar.

The profound irony is that, in the past decade, the wider culture has been steadily moving away from its love affair with power and authoritarian leadership personas. The toppling of Dan Rather by a rag-tag group of bloggers was not an anomaly. In the same spirit of organizational deconstruction, corporate America is accelerating its shift out of 1980s, hierarchical systems toward collaborative, webbed approaches to decision-making.

As the trend toward flattened hierarchies escalates, pastors who now consider themselves misfits in the world of entrepreneurial ministry may be dumping the very skills and personality bents most needed in the new landscape of engagement and empowerment...

...Instead of pushing back on leadership stereotypes that have long deserved questioning; instead of focusing on their strengths and becoming who God crafted them to be, they cave in.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Hill Worth Fighting On?

Kevin DeYoung's excellent BLOG considers the question of Gender Roles in Ministry - e.g. if we can be relatively relaxed in our conservative evangelical churches about different views on prophecy, baptism, spiritual gifts etc, then why not women's ordination?

Is it a case of double standards or is there something about that 'hill' that makes it particularly worth fighting on?

For some pros & cons see HERE (Why do the New Calvanists insist on Complementarianism?)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Words Fail Me

A new report urges the BBC to be more restrictive about the use of bad language in its programmes. Radio 5 Live were quickly on the case with a phone-in asking for views on the issue. Usually these phone-ins make me want to stick my head in a blender – just to relieve the mental irritation. The particular torture of them is the constant swing between random anecdote ('well my Dad’s smoked 80 a day for 60 years and he’s fine’) and sweeping generalisations that the caller can’t possibly have evidence for ('most people in this country would welcome a tax on cream buns’). Anyway I digress…

Those on the pro-swearing side (i.e. things are fine, chill out, it's no big deal) cited a number of arguments in defence of bad language…

1. Everybody does it (another of those sweeping generalisations!) and TV just reflects society. Well here’s a great surrender to progress and change if ever there was one. There were times when low-level racism was prevalent in society – if the ‘everyone does it’ argument had been followed we would still be watching the Black & White Minstrels (in fact 900,000 people just voted for the BNP so maybe the BBC will bring it back – just to reflect society!).

2. If you don’t like it – don’t watch it. Thus those who would like to enjoy a swearing-free life are basically told to push-off. But again where does that take us: if you don’t like drugs – just don’t use them; if you don’t like loud music – just sleep in the cellar when your neighbour plays his stereo all night; if you don't like cars doing 80mph in residential areas stay off the roads..etc. But whatever you do – don’t expect others to consider you. The lowest common-denominator must have sway.

3. Swearing is healthy – without its release we would become cripped by inner tensions. I suppose some would defend their use of physical aggression or alcohol or drugs on the same basis. Swearing is a lazy and self-indulgent way to deal with stress – plenty of people manage to deal with life without recourse to verbal abuse.

4. Swearing is expressive – it conveys real emotion and drama – things that would be lost without it’s use on TV. I remember watching for the first time on a long haul flight the film ‘Good Will Hunting’ – a brilliant film, full of drama and emotion. I was so moved by it I got it out on video for my wife to watch – but to my discomfort it was peppered with strong swearing. You see the in-flight version had obviously been edited and you know what, it had lost nothing! Ok that's an anecdote - but the wider point is that there are loads of examples of great drama that don't use swearing (and, by the way, since when did we want a TV so we could watch 'real life'?).

5. Swearing is ok as long as it’s used appropriately and in context. Do the advocates of this argument know what the most commonly used expletives actually mean? In what context, in a society that views itself as half-way civilised, is it appropriate to describe people or express our feelings in language that describes deeply aggressive sexual acts or demeaning references to sexual anatomy?

Further it should be evident to most people that swearing is no longer restricted to a few particular contexts in our society - it’s rife! Swearing is used like punctuation by many in the most banal conversations. The swearing culture infects not just the builder’s yard or football crowd but the home, the playground and even the cookery show.

When TV disseminates it – it gives a cultural permission for those in society (it’s the BBC after-all) to ape it. When adults use it – children copy. It’s doubly tragic to hear adults suggest that it does no harm to their kids (it’s ‘educating’ them etc) – a recent Newsround forum revealed that kids overwhelmingly felt threatened and uncomfortable with adults and parents swearing: see NEWSROUND

But why is swearing wrong – why does it evoke such strong emotions: anger, aggression, revulsion and fear? I think it’s primarily because words are theological – all words. The Bible reveals that words are vehicles of greatest power and thus their misuse is the means to greatest harm… a blog for another time!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

for attaining wisdom..(5)

I want to be humble, I'm just afraid that no-one will notice. (Anon)

It's a toughie! Resisting that driving force in our guts that wants to mention our achievements, highlight our contributions, make known our self-sacrifice, and flag-up our success. Deep in everyone of us is that old ego crying out, 'look at me, look at me!'. We can't resist dropping in that final comment of self-justification, that subtle posturing to 'even the score' of who's doing really valuable ministry stuff, or the pious putdown of someone who's getting a bit more attention than us.

Only faith can put that kind of pride and self-promotion to death. The faith that says: it really doesn't matter what others think or say - because God knows! He sees and He will reward - so why trade in that heavenly blessing for a 5 minute ego-massage (Matt 6:16).

Maybe recognition is passing you by - let it go! I mean, how embarrassing to clamber up to the top table only to be asked to move down! How much better to be asked up having been content to sit in the cheap seats. Instead...

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
someone else, and not your own lips. (Pr 27:1)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wayne's World

European Leadership Forum in Eger, Hungary 2009.

Yes that man in the back row (in the red shirt) standing three to the left of Andy Hunter is Dr Wayne Grudem. I know, it's shameless how these top theologians and Bible translators muscle in on the pics of ordinary bloggers like me. In fact I only let him off because he signed my ESV study Bible (a superb tome and well worth the investment for anyone who didn't get a complimentary copy at said event, ahem).

Friday, June 05, 2009


As much as I'm a fan of 'The Apprentice', I don't usually regard it as a great source of wisdom. However, a word from Sir Alan this week was an exception to the rule worth pondering....

'Personality can open doors for you, but character is what will keep them open.'

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

for attaining wisdom...(4)

Proverbs 12:15; 13:,10; 15:22, 16:20; 18:17.

Even Alan Sugar has his advisors – Margaret & Nick. Proverbs is clear that the attainment of wisdom is rarely a solo exercise. All of us can be quick to form opinions and come to conclusions about issues that confront us in life – our view on how church should be improved, the problem with some person or activity, or what would be best for us. The danger (indeed likelihood) is that our assessement will be lacking in some respect and won’t take into account all the factors. Unchecked we can get into all sorts of mess.

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15)

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (15:22)

It’s why God in His wisdom ordained collective leadership in churches – elders accountable to each other. It’s why Christians are called to be part of churches and open to mutual correction and instruction (Col 3:16). It’s why being part of a small group, or a prayer triplet and having good Christians friends, that we share with and listen to, is so vital if we are to make wise choices in life. It will require humility – yep, your idea isn’t always the best! Your opinions aren’t always well founded! Your instincts and preferences might be very misjudged!

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (13:10)

I’ve been in church leadership long enough to both bear the scars but also appreciate the great truth of one of my favourite Proverbs…

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. (18:17)

So hit the 'pause button' on yourself - seek some godly counsel. You're not alone for reason.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Praise Gathering 09

Over 400 voices from 128 Scottish churches join together for 3 evenings of praise, accompanied by the PG band and special guests Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Fri 12, Sat 13, Sun 14 June - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Book now - if you've not done so already.... CONCERT HALL BOX OFFICE

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Piper on Preaching

Wise words for all who preach and all who listen...

Source: Scott Hamilton's Resolve Blog

Monday, May 11, 2009

for attaining wisdom...(3)

Proverbs 10:19, 13:3, 18:13, 21:23, 29:20

Oh to have 'the gift of the gab', not to be tongue tied with reaction times slightly less spontaneous than a large government department. No one is excited by 'ums & ers' or a request to think things over a little longer. No, we want Jonathan Ross (without the sweary bits obviously) - instant comment & opinion given with assurance and force. We want the instantaneous wisdom and wit of a West Wing walk down the corridor - the show where no-one ever said, 'derr , I'm not sure, what was that again?...' The quick-fire reply is the mark of authority in our 24/7 sound-bite media age.

But, fellow ditherers - don't be too intimidated...

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (Pr 10:19)

He who guards his lips guards his life but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. (Pr 13:3)

He who answers before listening - that is his folly and his shame. (Pr 18:13)

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. (Pr 21:23)

Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Pr 29:20)

It might not be cool and media savvy - but a wise & considered response leading to a good outcome is much preferred in God's book (literally). So better to take a little time, admit uncertainty, even say nothing - than to spout forth words that fill a gap but can't meet any need.

Friday, May 08, 2009

for attaining wisdom ...(2)

Proverbs 24:17

Popular culture says ‘follow your heart’. Don’t repress your feelings but let them out. The idea of ‘a stiff upper lip’ or surpressing your emotions is seen as restrictive and harmful. The Bible on the other hand doesn’t see our feelings as always healthy or being a good basis for how we should approach life – because like every other part of us our feelings and emotions are fallen. Not that they will always be misplaced but that they always need to be assessed by a higher standard – the Word of God.

Do not gloat when your enemy falls, when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
Or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
(Pr 24:17)

There will be times when we must master our emotions – reign them in and resist their pull on us. Note that the proverb sees emotions as something we are to control – there is no sense of, ‘I can't help it, it’s just how I feel’. So when that bully of a boss, or that obnoxious neighbour, or that meanspirited church member comes a cropper – we must put down any feelings of glee or satisfaction ('do not let your heart rejoice'). We must pull our hearts back into line with God’s.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

for attaining wisdom...(1)

Proverbs 12:16

We've all been there. The email that seems, to us, to be a bit off-hand, a bit condescending, a bit presumptuous, a bit unfair, a bit disrespectful - that is, a bit wounding to our ego. As we scan it we feel our chest tightening, our breathing becomes a little shallower, the blood is pumping faster - then like a demented woodpecker we're off furiously tapping the keyboard and with a flurry of CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!! - the reply is sent.

A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. (Pr 12:16)

Real strength is not to 'hit back' but to 'sit back' - and have a sigh and a smile at the email and your reaction to it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Humble Arrogance

Great piece on Phillip Jensen's website on:
'The Arrogance of Humility'

In recent years tolerance has become ‘the acceptance of all views as equally valid’. And so tolerance is valued excessively. For the move to accept all views as equally valid is to rename ‘relativism’ as ‘tolerance’. It changes tolerance from ‘a way to get on with our neighbours’ to ‘a way to think’. It is the move from political freedom to political correctness. And this move turns all knowledge and certainty into arrogance and all ignorance and confusion into humility.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Godly Fear

Some more words of wisdom from Thomas Watson (The Great Gain of Godliness, BofT 2008).

To profess religion when the times favour it is no great matter. Almost all will court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are derided and maligned, to love a persecuted truth, this evidences a vital principle of goodness. (p6)

Superstitious fear ...a hare crossing the path is by some more dreaded than a harlot lying in a bed. (p12)

'Fear is the worst prophet in times of doubt' (Statius). He who is timorous will be teacherous. (p12)

God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing him, and so good that he is afraid of losing him. (p13)

Love is as the sails to make swift the soul's motion, and fear as the ballast to keep it steady in religion: love will grow wanton unless it be poised with fear. (p14)

When the soul looks either to God's holiness, or its own sinfulness, it fears, but it is a fear mixed with faith in Christ's merits; the soul trembles, yet trusts. (p14)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thought Life

Some quotes from Puritan Thomas Watson - The Great Gain of Godliness (Banner of Truth, 2008)

We cannot of ourselves think a good thought (2 Cor 3:5), but the Spirit elevates and fixes the heart on God: 'The Spirit lifted me up' (Ezek 3:14). When you see the iron move upward, you know there has been some magnet drawing it. So when the thoughts move upward towards God, the Spirit has, as a divine magnet, drawn them.' (p78)

Certainly God is best worth thinking on. Is there any excellency in the world? Then what is there in God that made it? He gives the star its beauty, the flower its fragrance, food its pleasantness; and if there such deliciousness in the creature, what is in God? He must needs be better than all. O my soul, shall I admire the drip and not the ocean? (p78)

Think of God's mercy: this makes all his other attributes sweet. Holiness without mercy, and justice without mercy, would be terrible. (p83)

No truer touchstone of sanctity exists than the spirituality of the thoughts. What a man is, that his thoughts are: 'For as he thinketh in his heart, so he is' (Prov 23:7). Thoughts are freer from hypocrisy than words. One may speak well for applause, or to stand right in the opinion of others; but when we are alone and think of God's Name, and admire his excellencies, this shows the heart to be right.

Thoughts are freer from hypocrisy than an unblamable life. A man may in his outward behaviour be fair, yet have a covetous, revengeful mind. The acts of sin may be conceived when the heart sits brooding upon sin, but to have thoughts spiritualised and set upon God is a truer sympton of sincerity, than a life free from vice. Christians what do your thoughts run upon? Where do they make their most frequent visits? (p85)

We judge men by their actions; Gods judges them by their thoughts. (p85)

O saints, do but let your thoughts dwell upon the love of Christ, who passed by angels and thought of you; who was wounded that, out of his wounds, the balm of Gilead might come to heal you; who leaped into the sea of his Father's wrath, to save you from drowning. Think of this unparalled love which sets the angels wondering, and see if it will not affect your hearts and cause tears to flow forth. (p87) contemplating God's holiness, we are in some measure changed into his likeness: 'Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image' (2 Cor 3:18).

Some complain that they have no joy in their lives; and truly, no wonder, when they are such strangers to heavenly contemplation. Would you have God give you comfort, and never think of him? (p88)

The thoughts we have of God in the time of health, will be a comfort to us in the time of sickness.' (p88)

Our thoughts of God shall not be lost. God accepts the thought for the deed. David had a good thought come into his mind to build God a house, and God took it as kindly as if he had done it: 'Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build a house for my name, thou didst well in that it was in thy heart' (2 Chron 6:8). p89

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Harvest Church Plant

Another chance to find out about the new 'Harvest Bible Chapel' plant on 20th April at the Premier Inn, George St, Glasgow @ 8pm.

Harvest Glasgow Open House Invite from Scott Hamilton on Vimeo.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Stretching preaching

AJ Mortimer, How to Speak, How to Listen (Touchstone. 1983), p61-62

"Always risk talking over their heads!.... It will not hurt if some of the things you say may be beyond their reach. It is much better for them to have the sense that they have succeeded in getting some enlightenment by their effort to reach up (even if they also have the sense that somethings to be understood have escaped them) than it is for them to sit feeling insulted by the patronising manner in which you have talked down to them.

The truly great books, I have repeatedly said, are the few books that are over everybody's head all of the time. That is why they are endlessly rereadable as instruments from which you can go on learning more and more on each rereading. What you come to understand each time is a step upward in the development of your mind; so also is your realisation of what remains to be understood by further effort on your part.

...What is true of books to be read is true of lectures to be listened to. The only lectures that are intellectually profitable for anyone to listen to are those that increase one's knowledge and understanding."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Keller debate with atheist Norman Bacrac

Timothy Keller started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York in 1989. It now attracts several thousand members to worship every week. His book "The Reason for God" answers the questions he is commonly asked by sceptical New Yorkers. He engages with Atheist Norman Bacrac editor of the "Ethical Record" - a Humanist publication. They debate whether Christianity's exclusive claims are arrogant, and whether people alone can be the best judge of what is right and wrong.

The debate is on-line at Premier Christian Radio and can be accessed HERE.

You'll need to fast-forward 21.30mins into the show to get the actual debate section.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Contains strong gospel content

So there I was flicking through the Wesley-Owen church resources catalogue when my attention was caught by the words ‘Contains strong gospel content’. No really, there in a small box under the letters ‘DVD’ was ‘Contains strong gospel content’. The advert was for the ‘Discipleship Explored’ DVD – which apparently, we are warned, contains ‘strong gospel content’ – so presumably not for the Sunday School then.

I flicked back through the catalogue for other such warnings – e.g. ‘Contains strong theological language’ or ‘Contains scenes of a Christian nature’ or ‘PG: Potentially Godly’ – but no, no other materials merited this kind of ‘red flag’ treatment (not even the Bible!).

The mind boggles – what does it say about our Christian culture that it’s felt necessary to warn people that discipleship materials might be, well you know, a bit full-on with the gospel! Come on, we’re not talking about materials for a pre-evangelism cheese & wine party here – this is something for people who are Christians to help them in their faith. The makers have even called it ‘Discipleship Explored’ in an effort to reduce such potential confusion.

Sadly – and it’s pretty sad – there is clearly a market for Discipleship-lite materials, presumably for those saved via the Gospel-lite message so prevelant today. After all why teach people about the battle for holiness when their sin was never a big issue in the first place, why talk about Cross-bearing when they signed up to promises of having ‘their best life now’, why move to the prayer room when you started in the pamper room.

Well good on ‘Discipleship Explored’ – they should wear ‘Contains strong gospel content’ as a badge of honour – and we should seek to win the world and disciple Christians with nothing less.