Blogroll: Sussex Parson

I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 31 posts from the blog 'Sussex Parson.'

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Updated: 13 hours 51 min ago

The objectivity of Scripture

Fri, 22/10/2021 - 09:22

 Professor Paul Helm has written a helpful little book about the doctrine of Scripture: Just Words? Special Revelation and the Bible (Evangelical Press, 2019). 

One of the things he stresses is the objectivity of the Bible. To be sure there are parts of the Bible which focus on inner feelings. But much of the Bible is concerned with public history. This sets it apart from some other religious texts which largely pass on teachings. The Bible is about real events, indeed, the Event of the cosmos which changes everything: the incarnation, death and resurrection of the God-man. The Bible is thus a true story of this world from creation to New Creation with Jesus at its origin, centre and climax. 

And, in our somewhat post-modern relativistic context, where truth is sometimes claimed to be subjective, it is useful to emphasise that the Bible claims to introduce us to The Word who is The Truth, not to someone who might prove to be true for me. One of the marvels of the Bible, in fact, is that although it was addressed to particular people at particular times about particular issues, all God's people around the world and down the centuries have found that it speaks to them with convincing and life-changing power. This is more than the experience of millions. It is because the Bible is True, objectively and subjectively and if not exactly timelessly, then at least for all times and places and people.  

The Bible offers an objective solution to the objective problem of all people: salvation from sin. The Bible may well, eventually, make us feel better, it should help us to be better, but it is first of all a message of the good news of rescue for sinners because of what God has done. It calls for a subjective response, but also a clear, observable change of allegiance which is more than a matter of something going on in my heart. It transfers me to a new kingdom and makes me a member of a new people with a new life and a new destiny. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Becoming an expert

Wed, 20/10/2021 - 16:13

 What does it take to become an expert on something or to do something really excellently?

You need a pretty narrow field or a well defined something: goal keeping, making wooden chairs or Calvin's doctrine of Scripture. 

Of course intelligence (the right kind of intelligence for the job) and conscientiousness will be important. Depending on the task you may need openness and creativity. Some spark of natural ability would of course be a great start. 

Almost certainly you need lots of practice. And for that you will likely need a deep interest or commitment. You will need some kind of pay back or motivation. Why are you doing this thing and going on caring about how you are doing it? This thing ought to do something for you.  

But it is no good just to do the same thing again and again if the results are not improving. Make a million rubbish pipe racks and they will still be rubbish. You need critical reflection on your practice. You need to get better. A little bit better every so often over long period of time and you will soon be very good, much better than many others. 

Quite likely you need some outside help: a master who will train the apprentice, or a coach, or a PhD supervisor. 

And speaking of PhDs, that might give us an idea of the amount of time needed. You may well need an undergraduate degree and then a master's degree and then three years of full time work. After that, with any luck, you will have made an original and significant contribution to scholarship and written something that is in principle worthy of publication. You will be an expert. You may well know more about your thing or do your thing better than anyone else in the world. 

So with some background maybe you could do this in 6 years part time. Or in 10 years as a hobby.

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Is this a church?

Wed, 20/10/2021 - 12:51

 One of the most pressing current theological questions, it seems to me, is how you recognise a church. This is so because you know you ought to belong to a church. If your church is not a church, you ought to get one!

What is the proper unit? The local congregation? Or something smaller - a homegroup or a cell or a congregation, perhaps? Or something larger? A benefice? Or some other group of churches? Or diocese? Or province? Or denomination?

And what are the essential marks?

The C of E has done some thinking about this.  

Evangelical Anglicans are sometimes accused of lacking an ecclesiology but this is harsh. The Reformed Thirty Nine Articles of Religion contribute a formal statement:

XIX — OF THE CHURCH
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

The Reformed have debated whether discipline should be included. Or is it a matter of the right administration of the sacraments.  

The C of E generally holds that something beyond the local congregation is essential. Likely this Article thinks so. Notice that it speaks of "the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch... also the Church of Rome". These are not single congregations with one vicar who all meet in the same building. 

(For more on this, we would all like to read Lee Gatiss 'The Anglican Doctrine of the Visible Church' Evangelical Quarterly: An International Review of Bible and Theology (2020))

In fact, though evangelicals don't always like it, it is arguable that bishops (the role, not this use of the term bishop to mean bishop!) go back to the New Testament. It seems bishops were well established during the 2nd Century and were generally thought of as pretty important by the 5th. Timothy Bradshaw writes that Anglican ecclesiology "strongly affirms" the office of the bishop, but in precisely what manner is controversial. In his view, evangelical Anglicans generally agree with Anglicanism more broadly that bishops a more ancient and not to be abandoned. However, he says: "episcopacy is ministerial to the church and it cannot be said to be a test of a true church. It may be said to be of the church's 'bene esse' or well-being, not of its 'esse' nor its 'plene esse' or fullness of being." (The Olive Branch, p175) Hilary and Jerome both suggest that bishops are kinds of presbyters (p176) and Cranmer, Jewell and Field held that bishop's superiority over priests was more a matter of custom than divine command (p177). Bradshaw summarises: "All the evangelical doctrinal authors cite lists of representative texts to show that 'no bishop, no church' is a post Tractarian distortion." (p177).     

How much independence a diocese or a province has or should have could be discussed. 

So, maybe an Anglican doctrine of the church requires:

The Word

The Sacraments

And also probably:

Something beyond the congregation 

Bishops (as a matter of custom and order)

But the question still arises to what standard? Must it have the right Bible? Must it preach it well? How many sacraments and how administered? What links must the local congregation have and to whom? And must the bishop be a good chap? Could the bishop be a woman? What must the connection to the historical episcopate be?

This issue of how to spot a church was a question at the Reformation. Was Roman Catholic baptism valid? Was the Church of Rome a true church in any sense? Calvin argued the church of Rome was not a church, but there were churches among them. Hooker thought the Roman Church was a church, but one in very serious error. 

This matters because if you are not in a church you should be. 

But all churches can and do err. If you are in a church which is in very serious error, you might stay and pray and work for reformation. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Biblical models of pastoral ministry

Wed, 20/10/2021 - 11:00

 There are of course a number of different biblical terms and models for the minister (servant), presbyter (elder), bishop (overseer). 

Perhaps the most prominent is "pastor", so much so that we forget that it is a metaphor. Pastor means shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd whom under-shepherds should always keep before them. 

Of course with any model we need to think about what the Bible means by it. We must avoid word association or illegitimate totality transfer. What you (rightly or wrongly) think of as Shepherdy may not be what the Bible has in mind.

The modern Australian shepherd who looks at his sheep from time to time from his vehicle, is rather different from the ancient near eastern shepherd who may have slept with his sheep at night, would have called them by name and led them to new pasture and so on. It is not often today that a shepherd has to fight off a wolf or a lion or a bear, and barbed wire is certainly a help in a way in which it was not in the ancient near east. 

It would be an instructive exercise to make a list of all the models, terms and descriptions of the ministry found in Scripture. 

Good ordination services may be a help. 

We would probably find that our thinking about ministry owes more to the business world and the secular leadership books than we would care to admit. 

The British Army has a surprisingly well defined leadership doctrine which despite its official and sensitive status is freely available online. Their concept of servant leadership and their stress on values and standards, respect, humility, followership, the power of example, discipline, obedience, loyalty, challenge and the maxim do as you would be done by no doubt owe much to a biblical tradition and Christian heritage. Things are not often literally exploding in Christian ministry, but the Christian is engaged in a spiritual battle. The LORD is a warrior. The Messiah has fought and triumphed. The minister must aim to please Christ his captain and must not entangle himself in civilian affairs. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

An argument for lay evangelism and ministry

Mon, 18/10/2021 - 07:49

 Which as it happens, I stole from my Lay Reader whose sermon I was able to listen to on Facebook. 

When the Vicar talks about Jesus, he is only doing what he is paid to do. We expect him to go on about God. We can kind of filter it out. He is a hired hand. His livelihood and his professional status might be thought to depend on people giving to his church and attending it. 

But what of the lay person? He or she is more disinterested. What reason does she have for expounding the excellence of Jesus other than the fact that she finds Jesus excellent? She may want you to go to her church, but largely because she loves to go herself and she thinks you would love it. Maybe she would ideally like you to give to her church, but she first puts her money where her mouth is as she thinks it worth giving to. 

(Provoked by 1 Thessalonians chapter 2: dare to tell others the gospel). 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

How long should I spend preparing a sermon?

Sat, 16/10/2021 - 12:54

 It is sometimes said that one should spend one hour in preparation for every minute one intends to speak. To my mind, this is not very helpful advice. If you are a free church pastor who might preach three forty minute sermons a week, it will be quite impossible. Some people say that it takes them longer to prepare a good ten minute sermon than an average twenty minute one. I can well imagine that is true if one wants to be clear, concise, engaging and true to the text. It takes some time to work out what can be left out. So I suggest forgetting about time per minute. 

The true answer is it all depends.

How long do you have?! What else have you got to do?

How well do you know your text?

Your hearers?

Have you preached on this passage many times before?

How are your languages?

Are you an able speaker?

Does the text touch on doctrines, or history, or pastoral or apologetic problems you have to do lots of work on?

How is your praying?

If you are generally very well prepared and experienced, you may be able to get away with very little preparation on some passages or texts. This might be a good or a bad thing!

You might say you have always been preparing your sermon for a lifetime! True enough. But you should I think spend at least some specific time in preparation. 

I have heard it said that people like an off the cuff sermon from time to time. Or that Father So and So always used to prepare his sermon walking from the Rectory to the church. Whether it was ten miles or twenty yards is not always disclosed. But frankly, if this is your regular pattern, I think it is disgraceful negligence. The public preaching of the Word is (along with prayer and administration of the sacraments and... and... and...) one of the most important things any minister, any human being, can do and I think it demands some deliberate and specific dedicated effort and thought from you. And more than ten minutes! 

You should spend enough time in preparation to do an acceptable job. You want to say something true and useful about the good news of Jesus Christ from this text. And once you know what that is, you should try to force yourself to do a bit more work to make your sermon more than adequate. I find this last 10 or 20% the hardest for me, but it is wise if at all possible to not settle for good enough if one has the ability and capacity to make the sermon better. Eventually the law of diminishing returns might cause you to stop before you have Yhe Perfect Sermon, but could you relatively easily add value to "that will do"?

My advice would be: begin your preparation (even if only slightly) as early as you can. Read Sunday's text a few times on Monday. (And for goodness sake decide what the text is going to be so that you have some time to actually prepare not wonder what to preach on!) These first readings may give you an idea as to whether you will need more time or less in the study this week. Have a look at your diary and have an idea when that might be. Of course your week may have to change, but you should plan some time to prepare. You may even feel you need to track down some extra study material on some particular question. If you don't start your sermon preparation until Thursday, that might not be possible. 

You might do a fair bit of preparation while you walk the dog or wash the dishes or drive the car but I really think it will also help you to apply your bottom to your chair and get out a pen and paper or a laptop.

I recommend spending at least two main sessions in sermon preparation. By the end of session one (which might be, say, a morning or an afternoon), try to have a sense of how you will preach the passage: what is the main thrust of the sermon going to be? After this four hours work, where are you in terms of a theme / aim sentence and any kind of points or structure?

There is great value in sleeping on it and maybe consciously or unconsciously mulling over the sermon / allowing it to mature. 

 Much of session two can then be spent refining your outline and working on how to say it etc. What will your introduction and conclusion be? Are there any main illustrations? Things to explain carefully? Objections to anticipate? Applications?

Some people also swear by some time on Saturday night or Sunday morning spent on the sermon. If you are going to preach some from memory, this may be a help. Or you may be one of those people for whom a bit of adrenaline and a deadline might do wonders. It doesn't say in the Bible that it is necessarily sinful or foolish to spend 6am - 10am on a Sunday working on your sermon, but for myself I'm not sure that would be an ideal regular pattern - not least as we have a service at 9:30am. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Towards a Collect for Latimer and Ridley

Sat, 16/10/2021 - 11:06

 

Almighty God,

whose faithful servants Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer

bore courageous witness to your pure gospel even to the point of death,

cause the holy light of your Word so to shine in our hearts and in this land

that the hope of your church shall never be extinguished,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Have we had enough of experts?

Fri, 15/10/2021 - 11:16

 Who or what is in fact accepted as a trusted authority in the UK today?

No longer the Bible or the church. Not the Vicar.

Certainly not politicians. 

The police feel less safe to many than they have for some time.

Journalists are low in the lists of the trusted. Some are sceptical of "The Mainstream Media". 

Apart from anti-vaxers, maybe its the GP?


Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

One big idea?

Fri, 15/10/2021 - 10:24

 I have sometimes been a bit sceptical of the idea that bible books / passages always have one big idea and that this should be reflected in every sermon. 

I think it is sometimes legitimate to preach something that is obviously not the main point. 

But I think we can say at least this:

(1) Your sermon should ideally have some kind of unity and coherence

(2) It should also have a purpose which is more than filling time or even pointing out a few things of interest. There should be application - an intended transformation or responses. And see also (1).

If you find there are many interesting things that a bible reading says, I think it would certainly serve your preparation to think about any big ideas or aims of the book or section. Why does it say all this here? How does this fit in and fit together? This can help you to focus and to work towards coherence and purpose in your sermon. A view of the whole will likely illuminate the working of the parts. 

And thinking about the purpose or aim of the text for the first readers will help you to think about the aim(s) of your sermon - taking into account your hearers' different situation. It is conceivable that a warning to Old Testament readers could serve as a comfort to us, for example. God's word of salvation and judgement has proved to be true so we who are trusting in Jesus in the midst of suffering can be sure that vindication is coming. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

The body of Christ

Fri, 15/10/2021 - 08:40

 We may distinguish at least three senses of "the body of Christ":

(1) The natural biological body of Christ received from Mary, born, crucified, risen, glorified, enthroned in heaven

(2) The church

(3) The bread of the Eucharist

Each usage would be either obvious from the bible or demonstrably biblical. 

If we ask where we see the body of Christ today, we might say it is supremely as (2) the church gathers at the Lord's Table (3). 

One of the problems of eucharistic theology has been that we have confused (1) and (3). The bread does not turn into Jesus. Jesus is not in with or under the bread. But the bread is more than a picture of Jesus.

(1) and (3) cannot be separated for at the Eucharist, (3), the church (2) receives Jesus (1). We feed on Jesus in our hearts by faith, empowered by the Spirit. The body of Christ is in heaven and we lift up our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit to join with him in the heavenly assembly, where we are already seated with Christ. Though we may note that, strikingly, Calvin also say that "Christ descends to us both by the outward symbol [the bread] and by his Spirit." (Institutes 4.17.24, FB vol 2, p1390)

It is Christ - the real true and whole Christ as he is now - Christ with his body (1) and soul - who is received by the church (2) in the Eucharist (3), not in with or under the bread, but in this meal, by bread and faith and Spirit. The bread is not substantially Christ, but Christ is received instrumentally by it.

As Stephen Long argues, Calvin rejected theories of Christ's ubiquity or enclosure with bread but he argued for true representation. The bread is not a bare symbol but what seems to be offered here is truly given. 

 (Inspired by the final post in this series: https://theopolisinstitute.com/conversations/bodies-and-the-body-of-christ/)

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

On Following The Science and Following Jesus

Thu, 14/10/2021 - 15:19

 

From The Rectory

 

We have frequently heard over the last year about the government “following The Science” – or not. But this is somewhat confused. “The Science” hasn’t always spoken with one voice. And there is a step to be made between expert scientific advice and political policy. There are many scientific voices to which our beloved leaders ought to listen. And there are lots of other issues for them to consider too.

 

To change topic slightly, some people also assume that The Science has disproved biblical Christianity. But again, may I say, this is rather confused. Many scientists are committed Christians. (Professor John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician, for example, is well worth reading and listening to on the Christian faith. You can find more at: johnlennox.org). And it is a step from the claims of contemporary science (even if we can agree what they are and can agree with them) to conclusions about God.

 

One author has said that science and Christianity are “unnatural enemies.”[1] It is true that Darwinists have sometimes gone to war against Biblicists, but some Christians would claim that a kind of theistic evolutionary theory can be reconciled with the teaching of the Bible. Certainly it is true to say that the Bible is far more concerned to tell us that God made the world rather than to go in to details of howhe did so. The Genesis account is clearly not a modern scientific description, but that does not mean that it is not true in more important ways.

 

Historically, Western scientists have seen their endeavour as thinking God’s thoughts after him. They have delighted both to read their bibles and to explore the natural world, which they called “the book of nature.” God’s creation reveals a wonderful and powerful creator. The book of Scripture directs us to the book of creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God;the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19v1). To study the natural world is to explore the ways of God and think his thoughts after him. The more we discover about the human body, for example, the more we might appreciate that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139v14). And this might move us to worship our Maker.

 

Although many of the Western elite today would call themselves atheists, the bible makes the bold claim that human beings are made in the image of God with a kind of intuitive knowledge of him. According to St Paul: God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1v20).

 

Not only are science and Christianity potentially compatible, it can be argued that modern science requires something like the God of the Bible. It’s hard to see why science would even work if there were no God. If the world is purposeless and chaotic, it is odd that scientific laws work so well. But if gravity and the laws of motion are God’s habits, it makes a lot of sense. An intelligently designed universe is most likely to be amenable to intelligent investigation.

 

So science and theology can be friends. But both are needed. Science is excellent at telling us how things work. But we also need to ask whyquestions. The Science can get us so far in some areas, but there are other considerations. In fact, we need not only rational exploration of God’s creation but for God to reveal himself to us. God not only shows us what he is like by what he has made but he speaks. The God who said “Let there be light” has entered his creation in his Word made flesh, Jesus, The Light of the World. May he cause the light of the knowledge (the science) of God to dawn in our hearts.  

 


[1] The title of a helpful book by Dr Kirsten Birkett, Unnatural Enemies: An Introduction to Science and Christianity (Matthias Media, 1997)

 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Infra or Supralapsarianism

Thu, 14/10/2021 - 14:55

 A friend recently asked me what the right answer is on this. The truth is I haven't really thought about it very much. We need to be clear exactly what the issue is. I think it is open to question whether or not this is a sensible question and how much difference it really makes. 

You can find some discussion of various approaches here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/lapsarian-views/

The debate is about the logical (not temporal) order of the divine decrees for reprobation and salvation. 

On a supralapsarian view, God means to save some and damn others and therefore decrees the fall and so on. 

On an infralapsarian view, God decrees the fall and means to save some out of the damned mass of humanity. (We might still need to ask why he decrees the fall). 

Now, God is timelessly eternal. And his thinking is not like ours. We sometimes think by logical deduction. But God knows all things we might say intuitively. And God's relationship with reality is also rather different from ours. Though God can "imagine" things that do not exist, certain "thoughts" or decrees of God actually constitute reality. 

In so far as there is a Reformed consensus, it is infralapsarian. All the confessions speak in this way and whilst they do not exclude, supralapsarianism, none affirm it. The Supra- view is a minority report in the Reformed tradition. Packer (Anglican Heritage, p96-98) says the Puritans spent a generation from the 1580s and 1620 embracing supralapsarianism, which Beza taught, but then retreated from it. Prominent supralapsarians include Franciscus Gormarus, a key participant at Dort, William Twisse, the 1st prolocutor of the Westminster assembly & Samuel Rutherford. Barth is a kind of supralapsarian.

It would seem to me very odd to imagine a decree of damnation entirely without reference to the fall. The fall must surely be the judicial grounds of damnation. 

Romans 9 is obviously an important text in this debate. 

Letham (Systematic Theology) argues that there is a case for supralapsarianism if we accept that that which is last in execution is first in design. The house is finally constructed according to the initial plan. This is of course especially so in the case of an omnipotent actor. 

Some of the objections sometimes given to supralapsarianism seem weak to me. 

Richard Muller, Dictionary, p292, is a bit surprising on this. He equates supralapsarianism with double predestination for the glory of God, which seems the correct view to me. We may say that God's predestination is not symmetrical, but even if he passes over some that effectively decrees their reprobation. 

Neither should we worry that supralapsarianism makes God the morally responsible author of sin in a way that other views do not. We have this problem either way if God is entirely sovereign. And we have useful things to say about it. It enough that human beings are the proximate and responsible cause of their falling away from the good. 

It is true that the Bible normally speaks redemptive-historically and therefore it might be said infralapsarianly. We should be cautious about speculating about the secret decrees of God, but I think we can appeal to mystery a little too hastily (as in my view Packes does, whilst admitting that there is a certain logic to the supralapsarian view). 

 Robert Raymond's systematic theology makes a modern case for supralapsarianism. 

The most compendious recent book on this is said to be J V Fesko, Diversity within the Reformed Tradition: Supra- and Infralapsarianism in Calvin, Dort and Westminster (Reformed Academic Press, 2003).

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

On the ministerial declaration of assent (C of E)

Thu, 14/10/2021 - 14:06

 To my mind The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion are a jolly good thing and are much neglected in the dear old C of E to its loss. 

The Church of England requires a "declaration of assent" (found in Common Worship and in Canon C15) from its ministers but the form today is not explicitly that of full, clear assent to each and every one of the Articles in all its fullness. The church does not require strict subscription. It does not get into the business of anyone taking exception to any articles.

 This declaration could read read in a very weak manner. Much depends on how much difference one allows between "revealed in... set forth in" and borne witness to by. Do these mean essentially the same thing without repeating the same word three times? It does seem possible and even sensible to me to think that the C of E sets out a descending hierarchy of authority here: the Bible is the revelation of God; the creeds set out what the Bible reveals; and the Articles are an additional witness to it.

The Articles could be thought to give a useful yet weak, partial and erring witness to faith revealed in the Scriptures and set forth in the creeds. Almost anything could be said to be an inspiration and guidance even if one went off in a largely different direction. But this is not the position of the Church of England and it is hard to see how someone who thought the Articles to be basically wrong could honestly make such a declaration. For example, the Articles are clearly Augustinian and Anti-Pelagian. If their witness, inspiration and guidance has any practical significance at all, it is hard to see that it could mean less than this. The system of salvation taught in the Church of England is clearly by grace through faith not by works. The Declaration of Assent surely commits all ministers to as much. And to some version of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, for example.  

Yet if we read the Declaration alongside Canon A2 and A5, we can go further:

The C of E officially holds that the Articles are agreeable to the Word of God and may be assented to by all members of the Church of England, though the C of E does not in fact obviously require that kind of assent from anyone. 

The Articles are very much a product of their time and are in principle reformable. Some changes might be helpful. And a new declaration of faith might also be useful. I think someone could be ordained even if they entertained doubts about the nature of Christ's decent into hell or the lawfulness of oaths to the civil magistrate. But it is clear what the C of E holds on these matters. And it seems to me that it could conceivably be a breach of canonical obedience to teach against the Articles if instructed not to do so by one's Bishop. 

A brief history of subscription and an analysis of the current situation can be found in: Martin Davie, Our Inheritance of Faith: A Commentary on the Thirty Nine Articles (Gilead Book Publications, 2013) p70ff

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

How to apologise

Thu, 14/10/2021 - 12:48

Christians of all people should be good at apologising. We know that we are guilty hell-deserving sinners. We do not (or should not) mind admitting that we are wrong inside and we do wrong things. Apologising can be humiliating. But humility is good for us! Failure to apologise might show a proud pretence. God knows all anyway. Judgement day will reveal all. What have we to lose? Maybe only an ill-deserved reputation. Perhaps the world would be better (even for me) if I were more open and honest.

Christians should be quick to apologise. But sometimes maybe we can be too quick. I think it can be a mistake to apologise if you are not convinced that you have probably sinned. This can lead to a conditional apology: "I am sorry if..." Which is not ideal. And not very easy to receive. 

The best apologies will be full and clear. What specifically are you apologising for? This should ideally be in the form: "I am sorry that I / we...." You should state what you did wrong and wish to repent of. "I am sorry: I was angry and shouted and was rude and unreasonable." You are admitting the sin and taking the blame. 

There could sometimes we scope for an "I am sorry that I upset you" apology. But we don't want to blame the person we are apologising to! We might be better to say, "I am sorry that I upset you by being hasty / rude / unthinking / insensitive / stupid / crass."

In English we can use "sorry" to express regret or admit sin. You are only apologising if you do the latter. "I am sorry that you are a crazy person who over reacted to my righteous anger by sulking" is not an apology. "I am sorry that you are making me feel awkward and I am saying this in an attempt to make you be nice to me", is not an apology.

Sometimes we will need to apologise for something where others were involved. Your civil servant or administrator may actually have made the mistake, but perhaps you are responsible: you may actually have been neglectful (failed in your instruction or your checking) but even if your only mistake was to employ this idiot, you should take responsibility. Even if the mistake was perfectly easy and understandable from an otherwise responsible and diligent person, the CEO of Tescos will do well to own and apologise for the action of the checkout assistant. Real apologies are pretty rare and can be powerful. This is a great opportunity for leaders (and especially ministers of the gospel) to lead. 

You may wish to include your pleas in mitigation. There can be a case for that. "I was new / dyslexic / busy / distracted by the death of my mother. I hope you will accept that this was a stupid mistake rather than deliberate malaise", but it is probably best to minimise this. It is all too easy to drown out your apology by attempted justification. Say: "This is a significant unacceptable error / sin and I'm sorry." 

Ideally, your apology should be at least as public as the sin. "I'd like to take this opportunity to say sorry for snapping at Julie the other day. It was very rude of me and I apologise." This sets a good example and helps to establish a culture of what we do around here. The other person is publicly vindicated. Julie might have been belittled in the eyes of some and it is right that she should be honoured as the innocent wronged party and I should be ashamed.  

Your apology should involve some offer of recompense or restitution if possible and appropriate. "I'm sorry I broke your vase. Please let me buy a new one."

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Parish Magazine Item for October

Tue, 21/09/2021 - 15:06

 

From The Rectory

 

For the last few weeks, our sermon series has been from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

You can catch up with any of our sermons online at: warbletonchurch.org.uk/sermons-talks/ and the Filter function allows you to search by Bible book. It has been a profound experience to ponder this ancient book’s meaning again. Its message seemed timely in the light of the Covid pandemic because in it The Preacher searches for meaning and significance in the light of death and the unpredictability of life.


The refrain which rings from its pages is “Vapour! Vapour! All is vapour.” In other words, life is short. Like a fleeting breath or a puff of smoke. It is quickly gone. And like a breath, life can’t be fully grasped. It slips through our fingers and eludes us. There’s so much that we can’t completely understand or control. The Preacher teaches us honesty and humility.

 

Although it’s sometimes strange and difficult, much of the value of the book lies in the fact that it takes a long hard look at the world as it really is. There are no quick or glib answers here – not even religious or spiritual sounding ones. Life isn’t a crossword puzzle that can be neatly solved. Even though we have God’s Word, we don’t have all the answers. Often there is injustice and pain. In many places wickedness holds sway. Sometimes God’s purposes are hard to see.

 

Although we live in this fog, the Preacher claims that joy is possible even in the mist. This comes not by escaping or denying the vaporous nature of life, but by receiving God’s gift of satisfaction in our toil. We do well to rejoice in all the good things that God gives us, but not to pin our hopes on them. We should hold onto our stuff lightly. Rather than grasping after the wind, we need open hands to receive God’s generosity. We get into trouble when we imagine that people or things can give us ultimate control, or significance, or security. We tend to make good things into god things, to take the gifts and forget the Giver. The Bible would call this idolatry and would say that idols will always disappoint.

 

We can’t see the whole picture, but we can see enough to take the next step with God in faith. We are to revere God and obey his commandments. 

 

The book of Ecclesiastes shows us very clearly the broken, fallen nature of our world. And it promises that God sees and cares. He will bring every action into judgement. We strive for a better more godly world, but we can’t straighten everything out. The cosmos is twisted out of shape by sin, and the flaw runs through our own hearts too. We need a Saviour. Left to ourselves, we can’t build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant lands. We must look to the New Jerusalem, the city whose architect and builder is God, which will come down out of heaven from God: his new, renewed creation. The Preacher disabuses us of utopian dreams that we might embrace a more solid hope.

 

The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes seems to be great King Solomon who was famed for his wisdom, but he points us to the Lord Jesus, the ultimate king, whom the New Testament calls one greater than Solomon. Jesus has overcome death for us and in him are found all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. We cannot shepherd the wind, but we can trust The Good Shepherd who commands the wind, “Quiet! Be Still!”. May we rejoice and rest in Him.

 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Ecclesiastes 7: An Outline

Sun, 05/09/2021 - 14:12

Ecclesiastes 7 (p672)

Introduction: Biblical wisdom

If all is foggy vapour, wisdom or escapism?

I. Four ways to be wise:

(1)   Embrace suffering (vv1-6)

 

(2)   Resist temptation (vv7-10)

4 particular temptations we’re to watch out for:

(a)   Extortion / bribery (v7)

(b)   Impatience / pride (v8)

(c)    Anger / hastiness (v9)

(d)   Nostalgia (v10)

 

(3)   Fear God (vv11-18)

 

(4)   Acknowledge limitations (v19-end)

 

II. But you can’t be perfectly Wise (vv23-25)

 

III. So look to God’s Wise Man (v28)

  

Audio sermon here 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Monsters

Sat, 04/09/2021 - 12:12

 Imagine someone with a hugely enlarged right bicep. Some of his other features are normal, some are withered. 

We are in danger of becoming or creating such monsters. 

Often our education system rewards one set of skills which is useful for passing exams. People easily become science or arts people, into numbers or words. And we tend to emphasise analytical thinking. 

There is a feedback loop when we find something relatively easy or we have a bit of success: we make progress in that thing and so its easier for us to do it better or faster than others and this can bring praise, success and recognition. We can even invest our identity in that thing: I'm the clever one, the sporty one, the musical one, the funny one, the artistic one. It is easy for us to never try or to neglect other things. We imagine that those things we've never really tried are impossible for us. "Oh, I can't sing / play / throw a ball." 

Our work can compound this. If we use one particular skill all day every day for three years, that's like getting a PhD in say, solving problems by making spreadsheets. And if you are very good with a hammer, or the hammer is the only tool you have, you might be tempted to treat everything like a nail. 

I'm all for strong right biceps, but it might do us well to consider whether or not we might be a bit lopsided or top heavy. It might be good for us to try going for a walk or using our other hand, rather than just batting everything with that strong right arm.

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Nature poetry

Fri, 03/09/2021 - 14:58

 This afternoon I picked up my second hand copy of Ode To The Countryside: Poems to Celebrate the British Landscape (National Trust), which intriguingly has a page torn out. What might the inscription have been?

Anyway, if writing the introduction to such a book, I don't think you should feel the need to tell us that nature poetry only really flourished for a century or so and is rarely amongst the greatest to have been written. I'm not sure that it's right that a focus on the local and the particular is likely to set a limit to its greatness. Might not much of the point be to see infinity in the ordinary?

Better, perhaps, the reflection that turning to poetry or the land can stretch us and give us space to think and see afresh.


Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Feedback

Fri, 03/09/2021 - 12:31

 Interestingly, Cleese suggests getting feedback on four things about your writing:

(1) Were you bored?

(2) Where could you not understand what was going on?

(3) Where did you not find things credible?

(4) Was there anything you found emotionally confusing?

Cleese says that readers will probably suggest fixes and he suggests that unless the reader is also a writer you should smile and nod politely and completely ignore the advice. The object of the exercise is to identify the problems you have to work on, not to get solutions. 

When assessing suggestions, you need to avoid ego. Don't ask who is right. Ask which idea is better. 

The best time to get feedback is when your idea is sufficiently clear to benefit from someone else's judgement. If you wait until the project is "finished" you may waste a lot of time. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Did my sermon work?

Fri, 03/09/2021 - 12:15

 Cleese says that the great thing about writing comedy is that you know if the writing has worked or not. Did they laugh?

It is much harder to know if the sermon worked.

You could ask for some feedback. You probably should. But the question is not really did people like the sermon. Or even did they think it benefited them. 

By their congregations shall ye know them. 

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

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