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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The 'Jesus Test'

Here's an exercise to do sometime - open up your Bible in the New Testament letters and just scan through the columns noticing any mention of the words 'Jesus', 'Christ', 'Jesus Christ' or 'Christ Jesus'.

It very quickly strikes you just how saturated the New Testament is with references to Jesus. Obvious point? Doh! Well of course, but it's amazing how often we can miss the obvious. You can hardly throw a brick in Paul's letters without hitting the name of Jesus - it is peppered throughout his letters, e.g. 'in Christ Jesus', our Lord Jesus Christ', 'purposed in Christ', 'mystery in Christ', 'fulness of Christ', 'with Christ', 'as Christ', 'of Christ', 'about Christ', 'to Christ', 'know Christ' - and that's just some of the mentions within about 4 pages.

The NT writers addresss a whole range of issues but they do so in a way that connects everything to Jesus. The name of Jesus is weaved through the text of the NT - He is the reason, the example, the authority, the hope, the source, the answer, the end, the beginning, the point etc - of everything that Christians are instucted about in the NT.

So when evangelical organisations produce publicity DVDs or send out appeals for support that contain no references to Jesus Christ it is not just unfortunate but actually sub-Christian. I mean, the notion that Paul would have disconnected Jesus from an exhortation to Christians, whether in giving to the poor or just living uprightly, is simply unimaginable. John Chapman makes the point that a sermon that could be preached by a Rabbi or an Iman is not a Christian Sermon - the challenge for many Christian organisations is do they want to be 'Christian' or just a 'successful' organisation? There is a creeping pressure to keep Jesus locked in the back office while Christians go out to show the world what great caring people they are - we must resist it.

In our secular - 'we don't want any of your faith stuff here' - society we will need to resist the temptation to become 'Jesus-lite'. Because if we take Jesus out of our ministry rationale or just minimise His profile - we are moving far away from NT Christianity and robbing ourselves of the one thing that will actually make our ministries powerful, meaningful and effective.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Harvest Bible Chapel

Scott Hamilton (formely pastor at Castlemilk Baptist Church) is planning a new church plant in Glasgow city (Harvest Bible Chapel). There will be a meeting for anyone interested in finding out more about this exciting new gospel initiative at 8pm on 25 March at Premier Inn, George Street, Glasgow.

Scott explains a bit more about it below...

Harvest Bible Chapel Glasgow Open House Invite from Scott Hamilton on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Right Relationships

What do you regularly pray about? What kind of ‘needs’ dominate your prayers? …In prayer, we tell God what we think we need. We ask for what we want.’ (Lane & Tripp, How People Change, p34)

As I reflected on this (yet another) searching question from Lane & Tripp – one prayer theme of mine came to mind: my many and constantly recurring prayers to have better relationships with people. You know, ‘help me to get on better with so & so’, ‘help me to be less testy in such & such situation’, ‘give me a less strained relationship with A,B,C…A1, A2, A3….AA1..’ – you get the idea. Good stuff, surely? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we should always be seeking to be humble, recognise our failings and seek unity and peace where possible.

But no – if my subtext is really just a plea for easier relationships with people – rather than ‘Christ-honouring’ ones.

Let me explain – people in church leadership can think that their ‘pastoral stock’ is measurable by how many people they are really friendly with – the idea being that ‘pastoral nirvana’ would equate to being everybody’s best friend. So the more people I have a cosy pally closeness to – the more I’m being a successful pastor. But the problem with such a view of pastoral ministry is that doesn’t face up to the reality that I and all around me are a bunch of sinners. Thus, this side of heaven, there will be tensions and differences between us – offences must come (Mt 18:7). Tensions and differences are caused by sinfulness - which is why there won’t be stress clinics in heaven. Now in the pusuit of ‘close warm relationships’ we could all just turn a blind eye to sinfulness – that is, never point out when people are out of line, never disagree with a bad idea, never say hard things to others even if they probably should be told, etc. We could all collude in a 'no questions asked' love-in. But it would hardly be Christ-honouring.

No, I’m afraid that if we are to be faithful to Christ and be people who model honesty and integrity – then tensions between us at times will be a fact of life. Sometimes a tough response will be needed, sometimes we will have to say ‘no’ or withdraw support. When we do so the reaction may be one of upset, awkwardness, and even hostility. In short we just won’t be able to be everyone’s pal and pastor with integrity.

Now of course we will need to be prepared to accept rebuke ourselves. We will have to examine very carefully our own sin-prone motives to check that we aren't masquarading pride as conviction. Nor does it mean that we can't have close friends with whom we can be ease – but even those relationships will feel the strain at times.

So rather than just praying for easier relationships we need to pray for Christ-honouring ones. Relationships that won’t always be the most comfortable but will be built on the desire to put Christ first.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses. (Proverbs 27:6).

Friday, March 06, 2009

Blood, toil, tears and sweat.

OK a bit self-indulgent for a Christian blog - but for those who wonder why I'm such a big Winnie fan and use him so much in sermon illustrations - Simon Schama says it so much better than I could.