Thursday, March 25, 2010

The word on the street...

On Friday 19th March an email started falling into the in-boxes of Christians. I received the message from at least three different sources (and forwarded it on to a few friends myself). The news being circulated was of an American street preacher arrested in Glasgow. The charge was of stirring up homophobic hatred. The exact context isn’t clear (at least to me), one source said the preacher was preaching on Romans 1, another that he quoted it in response to a question. Whatever the exact scenario - he was given a night in the cells before being brought before the Sherriff Court. Despite advice from one Christian legal organization to plead ‘innocent’, it seems that he was advised by the court lawyer to plead guilty. He also felt the additional pressure of a possible eight week delay were he to contest the charge when he had travel arrangements in place for his return home (this is all just what I’ve pieced together from website comments on the incident:

So he plead guilty to stirring up homophobic hatred, took a £1000 fine (paid for by supporters) and headed back to the USA. As the exact details of the incident are still unclear, and bearing in mind the real sense of intimidation that arrest & imprisonment must have presented, plus the legal advice given to him by the 'court', we ought not to be quick to judge him. Few of us comfortable UK Christians have had to face such circumstances and hindsight is a wonderful thing! Unfortunately many of the above website comments swing from lionizing him to depicting him as some latter day Judas – neither of which seems appropriate.

However, it’s hard to get away from the sense that this is a sorry situation – one that leaves us with the worst of all worlds. A Christian preacher is lifted in a Glasgow street and subsequently admits to homophobic hate crime – leaving a worrying precedent (pragmatically if not legally) for the police and opponents of the Gospel to be emboldened by. At the very least Christian evangelists and open air workers will have to be very wary of ‘being set up’ for similar treatment.

All of which brings me to my main though on this – the need for us to be very wise in how we speak about and respond to such ‘hot button’ issues. As I said I’m not clear exactly on how the exchange of views came about in the above incident – e.g. was the preacher provoked or just provocative? So what I say is not to prejudge that incident.

But there can be a tendency to think that when it comes to Biblical teaching the blunter we can be the better – so we should just give it straight with no regard to context. After-all, the thinking goes, truth is truth and woe betide me if I in anyway ‘soften it’ or avoid presenting it with full force. So if someone asks me about adultery, my response should be to denounce it with the full force of an Old Testament prophet – I will have discharged the truth and the rest is in God’s hands.

But is that the model of Jesus, for example? Jesus, of course, spoke some pretty blunt words at times (although mainly to religious opponents rather than irreligious ones) – but He was wary of falling into traps. On one occasion he was ‘set-up’ with a question about paying taxes to the Romans – a sneaky ruse to entice Him to fall foul of the authorities (Mk 12:13ff). But He was smarter than to take such bait, instead He answered with careful nuance & balance - thus avoiding a quick answer that would play into His opponents hands. On another occasion he was asked a question about His authority in an attempt to bring charges against Him. Jesus avoided answering with a question of His own, putting the focus on their inconsistency, rather than compromising His ability to continue His ministry at that point (Mk 11:27ff).

The point is that Jesus didn’t ‘dance to the tune’ of those trying to bring Him down – He knew when a quick or unqualified answer, however truthful, was not one to give. So when we are asked about our views on ‘hot button’ issues we need to think: Why am I being asked this, what is the agenda here, how helpful will a blunt answer be? Gospel communication is not just about disseminating a set of facts – it also involves persuasion, applying truth sensitively and recognizing the context (agenda) of your hearers. Because in facing the ‘wolves’ we are to be ‘shrewd as snakes' as well 'as innocent as doves’ (Mt 10:16).

Monday, March 22, 2010


Another great series of SNAG has ended - with a superb Biblical exposition of the Second Coming by Edward Lobb. Another night of first-class teaching and discussion. Thanks who all who have supported this ministry - which aims to strengthen our confidence in the Bible and our commitment to being guided by it in all matters of life & doctrine. The only concern is the lack of younger folks coming out. These are nights to lay down those evangelical foundations & Biblical depth - which will be needed more than ever in the years to come - and certainly can't be taken for granted. So if you're in your teens, 20's, 30s (even 40s!) join the seniors in getting into the nitty-gritty of God's Word and make sure SNAG is the diary next session.

Dates are: Sat 9th Oct / Sat 13th Nov / Sat 11th Dec / 2011 - Sat 8th Jan / Sat 12th Feb / Sat 19th March.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Telling it straight...

Picture the scene – the Christianity enquirers group [insert ‘brand name’ of choice]. In a circle of chairs sit a mixture of Christians and non-Christians. Someone suggests that it might be helpful for the Christians to say a little about why they became Christians. One by one the Christians speak – and a pattern soon emerges in their answers, along the lines of: 'Well being a Christian is a great comfort to me, it’s so good to know that whatever happens in life God is there with me, Jesus has really helped me in some difficult times and I can talk to Him at any time, it's such a joy to have a relationship with God and to know He loves me and cares for me no matter what…etc’. Well, amen to that – it’s all absolutely true and is testimony to some great blessings that accompany the Christian life.

BUT - if we inserted the words ‘aromatherapy’, 'my spouse' or ‘golf’ instead of ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ into those sentiments wouldn’t they equally stand up? Golf is a great stress reliever, aromatherapy eases me through some difficult days, at the end of a hectic week it’s good to know we can get the old clubs out, my wife has stuck me with through thick & thin …etc. So the non-Christians listen to our endorsements and think it sounds good (if a bit airy-fairy) - but actually going to church, giving up my guilty pleasures, being labeled a ‘Christian!’ would probably be more like extra hassel than a way to chill out for me.

Maybe a more effective (certainly more thought-provoking) answer to the question: ‘Why are you a Christian?’ would be – ‘Because I don’t want to go the Hell’. Okay, you’ll probably send the other Christians into a coma of embarrassment – so negative, caricaturing, blunt, lacking a sensitive appreciation of the social & theological context of the listeners – but you may actually get a discussion going around the key issue of the Gospel.

You see we need to make it clear that the Gospel is not some spiritualized aromatherapy, golf, whale music or life coaching. The Gospel is a matter of life and death – eternal life and eternal death. The judgement of God is the starting point of the Gospel – ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven…’ (Rom 1:18), God’s judgement on sin is the problem that the Gospel is the solution to, it is the question that makes being a Christian such a wonderful answer. We only fully appreciate and grasp the extend of God’s love towards us when we grasp that ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8) – so that we might ‘be saved from God’s wrath through him!’ (Rom 5:9).

Paul & Tripp say of church kids that the reason they are often so unexcited about the Gospel is because they do not think they really need it. Do our contacts reject the gospel or are they just underwhelmed by it?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hitchens Hits Home

In a recent interview, Christopher Hitchens, the fervent atheist and author of God Is Not Great, showed he has a much clearer understanding of what it means to be a Christian than the Unitarian minister interviewing him.

Marilyn Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the scripture literally. I don't believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Christopher Hitchens: I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Marilyn Sewell: Let me go someplace else...

Full interview: HERE

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Colin Buchanan Kid's Concert

Get you tickets asap for the Colin Buchanan Concert at Cathcart Trinity Church, Clarkston Rd Glasgow on Wed 10th March, 6.30pm. Tickets - 0794 0954 105

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Broken Down House (2)

Some more words of wisdom from Tripp....

We all tend to be quite adept at ignoring our own sin while being highly sensitised to the sin of others. It is hard for us to receive the loving criticism, confrontation, and rebuke of others because we tend to think of ourselves as more sanctified than we really are. (p35)

There will war in your heart between what the Bible has to say about you and what you like to think is true about you. ... That is why we get defensive when someone points out our sin and weakness. I become defensive when what people say about me doesn't agree with my view of myself. It feels like I am being misjudged.
This is why I need to remember constantly that the Bible is the world's best diagnostic tool. (p36)

No matter what I face in this fallen world, my greatest problem in life exists inside of me and not outside of me. (p37)

So yes, you are a sinner... But you are more than a sinner. You are also a child of grace. (p41)

Grace will confront you with the fact that you are much less than you thought you were, even as it assures you that you can be far more than you had imagined. Grace will put you in your place without ever putting you down. (p42)

The power that God gives me is not a thing. God gives me a Person. To provide for me the strength I need to live in the way he has designed, God gives me the only thing that can truly help me. He gives me Himself. The Spirit of God unzips me and gets inside me, enabling me to desire, think, do, and say the things that fit within the boundaries of his plan and purpose for me (See Galatians 2:20 and Ephesians 3:20). (p46)

My identity as sinner daily confronts me with how deep and pervasive my need actually is. My identity as a child of child confronts me with how expansive my potential actually is. (p47)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Broken Down House

Broken Down House - Living Productively in a World Gone Bad (Paul David Tripp, Shepherd Press 2009)

Currently reading this book - excellent pastoral insight in a very readable format. A few quotes that may inspire you to order for yourself....

The world you live in is a lot like a broken down house. Every room has been dirtied and damaged by sin. Not one part of it shines with anything like the pure glory that was so evident when it was first made. Sin has left this world in a sorry condition. You see it evereywhere you look. (p17)

Sometimes you get tired of the effort it takes to live in a broken down house, and you just want to quit. At every point and every moment, your life is messier and more complicated than it really ought to be because everything is so much more difficult in such a terribly broken world. (p17)

You often find yourself dreaming of what it would be like to live in house that needed no restoration, and you wonder if the job will ever be completed. You want to hold onto the promise of everthing eventually being fixed, but it's hard. You want to rest, but there's work to do. You want to escape, but you can't - this is your house and you have to live in it. (p18)

God is not satisfied with the state of this house, and he calls us to share his holy dissatisfaction. In our hearts he wants dissatisfaction and hope to kiss... He wants us to face how bad things really are, not as survivalists, but as restorers. (p20)

Do you wish you didn't have so many problems on your plate? Does it bug you that even the easy things in life don't turn out to be nearly as easy as you thought they would be? Are there problems in your past that still haunt you? Do you regularly face difficulties you sought to solve, but which still lie open and festering? Have you ever envied someone else's life? Have you ever wished you could start over in some area of life, but you know you can't? Have you ever felt too weak and unqualified to deal with what is confronting you? Does your life seem to move too fast for you ever to be able to catch up? Has there ever been a day in your life that was fundamentally problem free? (p24)

...the Bible is a book about this world. It is a gritty, honest book. When we read Scripture, we face the world as it actually is, in big screen high-def detail. God doesn't pull any punches. He doesn't paint over any cracks. He doesn't flatter or avoid. There is no denial of what is real and true.
The sights and soundas of the Bible are familiar. They are the sights and sounds of the very same broken world you and I wake up to everyday. (p26)

Last week your boss gave you your walking papers, or your teenager rebelled in your face, or you were diagnosed with a disease, or a tree fell on your garage, or your best friend gossiped about something you said in confidence, or your aging body ached, or your church disappointed you again, or you pulled your back out, or your vacation proved to be more work than retreat... you learned that someone stole your identity, or you felt drawn to something you knew was wrong.
Last week you encountered the world as it really is: broken. How did you do? (p31)

More quotes to follow...