Blogroll Category: Friends

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I see ghosts…

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Wed, 23/05/2018 - 09:08
‘Ghosts’ are the habits, practices, customs of the past that don’t have any present value, but the organisation (church, group, whatever) still carries on with them.
Categories: Friends

Wait – why am I talking?

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 21/05/2018 - 08:43
When you’re a leader, it’s all too easy to be the hero.  You’re the one with the answers, the vision, ...
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Categories: Friends

Some tentative thoughts on suffering

God Gold and Generals - Sat, 19/05/2018 - 18:13
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Tentative because I am neither an expert on suffering nor an expert on knowing God ( a "theologian")
I have some very limited experience of suffering, more mental than physical. I have a loving family, I live in a country with a wonderful free health service, so very different to most people in the world.
I hope the below is of some help but i am very conscious that the subject of suffering is so easy to get wrong. As one of the examples shows. I hope my tentative thoughts may be of some small help to any fellow sufferers. 
Sin and evil 
The Bible begins and ends with no suffering, its the bit in the middle that the problem. 
In the middle, the root cause is our sin, our bad choices. Other people's sin we are happy to point our finger at - a school shooter, an abusive parent. But we are reluctant to put our finger on sin. I am reluctant to do that with my sin. 
The utterly good God created a good universe. We humans rebelled and rebellion like a cancer is now everywhere and we can’t escape it. 
That does not mean that our suffering is always or even usually the direct result of our own sin. Sometimes it is - for example someone drunk drives and crashes, severely injuring themselves. But often its not at all linked and to suggest otherwise is wrong. Which bring us to:
Job's comforters
When trying to help in suffering its vital to tread with absolute humility as its so easy to get it hideously wrong. Job, which is an ancient and mysterious book in the bible, was a righteous man who mysteriously (from his perspective) suffered a series of terrible losses. In one day he lost all his wealth and his entire family apart from his wife. He then lost his health. His only remaining family member, his wife, urged him "to curse God and die". We the reader know that God has allowed the devil to inflict these sufferings on Job. For behind the suffering is evil and behind the evil is the devil. Yet, mysteriously, behind the devil, is God. 

This if you like "complexity" or I would prefer "mystery" was lost on Job's three friends. After a decent and honest silent grieving with Job, the three friends spoil their good start by opening their mouths. They argue as follows:

God is just
You are suffering
Therefore, you have done something terribly sinful which you must confess

Job thinks as Christopher Ash points out along similar lines and argues:

I am suffering
I haven't done anything terribly sinful
Therefore, God is unjust

Finally after lengthy backwards and forwards, God himself appears to Job in a storm. Great, you think, finally we will get the answer we are waiting for: "What's suffering all about?" But we don't. Instead, God asks Job 77 rhetorical questions (rhetorical in the sense that both God already knows the answer and because the answer is obvious. For example God asks Job "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the belt of Orion? Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs?". Of course, Job has to admit "No, I cant for i didn't make the universe". He humbles himself before God. 

So together with Job we have to acknowledge that in suffering we often reach the limit of our understanding. We simply dont know sometimes. Gods ways are not our ways. We don’t understand many things. There is a place for a theology of suffering but it can only take us so far. We must beware standard answers and a dogmatism.  "Christianity that is nothing but mystery leaves nothing to proclaim but Christianity that is nothing but certainties becomes haughty and arrogant." 

Sometimes there is nothing helpful we can say and the best thing we can do is simply grieve with our grieving friends. As Jesus did with Lazarus. 
Joseph. 
We must go further. Even morally evil things (sometimes, not always) may not only have a good result but may be good in Gods intent even if evil in human intent. 
This is what Joseph said to his brothers. The story is well known (I hope) and in fact last night we went to see a friend Adrian in a production of "Joseph and His amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". It was funny and enjoyable and very well performed. No suffering there! 

But, the real biblical story is really dark. Joseph is almost murdered by his jealous brothers. He is then sold instead into slavery where for a second time he is unjustly thrown into prison. But eventually, after many twists and turns, he not only becomes Pharaoh's right hand man but after many years saves his brothers from starvation. They are horrified when eventually he reveals to them who he is. They fear he will return evil for evil but instead he says  “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them."
Tower of Siloam 
Questions about violence and natural disasters are nothing new. In Luke we read
"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices*. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

(*i.e Pilate the Roman governor had murdered them)

Jesus did not assume that those who died did not deserve their fate. All suffering and death comes from sin. We Christians don’t actually believe what we say that we are miserable sinners who deserve Gods wrath. We actually think as Christians that we are not that bad at all. And when it comes to it that my suffering is unfair (see Job).
Jesus doesn’t treat wars and natural disasters as agenda items in a discussion of the mysterious ways of God but as incentives to repentance. Judgement on evil is imminent: if you like it’s the default option. We tend to think of it the other way round that we deserve happiness and that times of suffering call into question Gods power and even his existence. But Jesus doesn’t see it that way at all. To put it in modern parlance Jesus says its not about "when bad things happen to good people": rather its about when "good things happen to bad people".
But we need to go deeper still. For the last word on suffering for the present must be not judgement but rather mercy and compassion
1 Peter 3:8 says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”
Why did God ultimately allow evil and suffering? We simply dont know, though we do know that the defeat of evil and suffering glorifies God.
 But this we do know: that God Himself became human and suffered to bring us back out of our suffering, to God. Who will 'wipe away every tear". 

His suffering opened the door back to Himself, it broke our chains.  
Hebrews says “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature in order that through death, he might deliver those who’ve been held in lifelong bondage by the fear of death”. 
Angels can’t suffer. They cannot do evil. Only humans can suffer because only humans can sin. Thats why the Lord Jesus became human - so he could suffer in our place - yet without sin. We looked above at Joseph, who suffered so that his brothers who tried to kill him could live. Here there is a far greater example. At the cross, evil intent and actions produced through Jesus suffering the greatest victory for good in the universe. 

Suffering and death make me afraid. But Jesus has gone before us, has "cleared the way" so that he could deliver us who are held in lifelong bondage by the fear of death. Our "brother" Jesus, whom we hated, like Joseph was hated, suffered instead of us, so that we could be free from fear.

-------------

Some good books on suffering 



The Bible, especially Job, Psalms (e.g. 22, 23, 33, 34, 46, 103, 116), Isaiah (the suffering servant), the Passion narratives in the gospels, Acts, Romans 8, Hebrews, 1 PeterChristopher Ash: “Job the wisdom of the cross” (Crossway)Thomas Boston “The Crook in the Lot” (Banner of Truth) John Calvin (edited Joseph Hill) “Suffering: understanding the love of God”. (EP)Don Carson: “How long O Lord? reflections on suffering and evil” (IVP)Tim Keller “Walking with God through pain and suffering” (Hodder)JI Packer (on Richard Baxter) “A Grief Sanctified” (Crossway)RC Sproul “Surprised by suffering: the role of pain and death in the Christian life”. (Reformation Trust)p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica}
Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale “Why suffering?” (Faithwords)
Categories: Friends

Wedding Preaching

Sussex Parson - Sat, 19/05/2018 - 15:20
I suspect I might not agree with Bishop Michael Curry on everything.

And maybe his sermon was a little long and a touch repetitious. I didn't hear every word as the dear children were beginning to clamber around the sitting room, allowing the dog to steal their food and risking spilling their drinks.

And its possible that not all English Anglicans could carry it off quite as the Bishop did.

But surely there is a lesson to us here that most of us could afford to risk showing a little more enthusiasm, passion and intensity from time to time. According to the content of our preaching, we could deliberately speak as though we have a joyful, urgent and important message which we believe and which we think others ought to hear.

Too often I think my own sermons might be a little staid, not really having the quality of exciting life changing news with which I long to engage my hearers. I suspect I lapse into giving a take it or leave it statement of the truths of Scripture, whereas I ought to strive to hold up and to hold out Jesus Christ and his gospel, to be received with a hungry faith.

Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of today's televised wedding sermon, let us pray that the Holy Spirit enables the bold and powerful proclamation of the Lord Jesus in pulpits around the world this coming Lord's Day.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

An OK Dad?

Sussex Parson - Fri, 18/05/2018 - 13:52
I am struck by the dedication in the non-autobiography of Frederick Forsyth I have just dipped in to. "For my sons, ... in the hope that I was an OK dad." I guess many people if they look back on their lives would say that there are few things more important.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Ready?

Sussex Parson - Fri, 18/05/2018 - 13:50
Frederick Forsyth, writing in 2015, says: "My life has been blessed with extraordinary good fortune, for which I have no explanation."

After giving some examples he goes on:

"I have been married to two beautiful women and raised two fine sons, while enjoying so far robust good health. For all this, I remain deeply grateful, though to what fate, fortune or deity I am not quite sure. Perhaps I should make my mind up. After all, I may have to meet Him soon."

(The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, Penguin / Corgi, page 18)Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Failing to score political points

Sussex Parson - Fri, 18/05/2018 - 13:35
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that politicians attempt to score political points. That is part of their job. But I thought that Diane Abbott tried to do so particularly overtly on yesterday's Question Time. Though on a couple of occasions she failed to do so by accusing others of saying or thinking things that they disavowed. To those who are listening, these are shots which are off-target. In fact, they are own-goals which just make the sticker look silly, careless or low. Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Are Tories rats?

Sussex Parson - Fri, 18/05/2018 - 12:48
A member of the audience on Question Time last night was wearing a t-shirt with the slogan: "You are never more than 10 feet from a Tory" with a large picture of a rat.

Now, I am all for free speech, but this seems to me cheap, wrong-headed and offensive.

No doubt there are mean, nasty, greedy, treacherous people in all political parties.

It is quite wrong to assume that all Tories are rats.

Some might say it's unfair to rats!

But surely one might be a conservative because one thought that smaller government or lower taxation or individual opportunity or conservation of the good were core principles of freedom or the flourishing of society more represented by the centre-right than the Left.

To mix metaphors, it is just wrong to think that all Tory votes are the deliberate promotion of selfish fat cats.

And these days, of course, one might find it hard to find a Tory, say in London.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Disproportionate force

Sussex Parson - Fri, 18/05/2018 - 12:40
A member of the audience on Question Time last night made a good point about disproportionate force, I thought.

If a team of police officers come upon terrorists with knifes, the armed officers would not throw down their guns and pick up knives so that they use proportionate force.

The point about proportionate force is actually that we want to use the minimum necessary force.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

The State and Grenfell

Sussex Parson - Fri, 18/05/2018 - 12:37
There was quite a bit of discussion of Grenfell on Question Time last night.

Part of the story of the story is, it would seem, a catalogue of state failure.

I was struck by the fact that much of the response was a call for more or better state.

I can't help thinking that can't be all that needs to be said.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

The fatal danger of a leader’s self-love

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Fri, 11/05/2018 - 10:52
It’s not that this kind of leader want to be the only person in the room - Diotrephes needed that church he could control - but he needed to be the leader in the room. And he'd break fellowship with an apostle to win.
Categories: Friends

Thoughts on my birthday: extra time

God Gold and Generals - Tue, 08/05/2018 - 06:52




Today is my 55th birthday! Thank you for your kind birthday wishes. 
I am so happy and thankful to be alive. I honestly never thought I would make this day, given three years ago I was told I had 18 months to live. Every single day now feels like “extra time” — a wonderful gift from God, especially when it's such a beautiful day as the last few have been. What's more at the moment I dont even feel ill. I do when I go through chemotherapy, but the last bout was at the end of last year and I have pretty much fully recovered. Certainly my hair has regrown, though sadly not blond and curly.  
A story in the bible come to mind, about someone who also got "extra time". You can read it below. Here is a summary. A man called Lazarus was a great friend of Jesus, as were his two sisters Martha and Mary. Yet, when Lazarus was critically ill, Jesus waited and waited...until he died. Gods timing and Gods plans are far beyond our understanding.  When Jesus went eventually to their house, both sisters, in different ways, reproached Jesus for not being there. Jesus shows in response to sickness and death both anger (literally "he snorted with indignation" or "became angry in spirit and very agitated") and grief (he wept). Why? Because even though we all deserve death because we have all sinned and are in a fractured relationship with God, God Himself (i.e., Jesus) recognises the mess we are in and feels deeply for our broken state. Death is not the way its meant to be. 
Whats more Jesus is about to do something about it. He will shortly amazingly bring Lazarus back to life, make him walk out of the grave. Thus proving he is God. But Jesus is trying to teach them all — and by extension us — something even more profound. To have faith in the Son of God is far more important to me than to have health and comfort in this life, yes even than having life itself. (Though I am very happy to have that!) For faith leads to eternal life ,as this miracle will show. Faith is both a gift and something that can increase from a tiny beginning, for here Jesus is talking to those who have believed in him already, and yet he says this miracle is "so that you may believe." A commentator writes "Each new revelation is taking the disciples nearer to the ultimate revelation in the most extremely scandalous event, the cross--the ultimate revelation of God's light and life and love and thus the ultimate manifestation of God that faith must grasp hold of."  The disciples didn't have faith because they were religious or good people. Rather their faith was because when they heard the voice of God they believed him (to some extent) and responded despite having many doubts, issues and questions. If we take the first faltering step of faith homewards, God meets us with 10,000 coming the other way
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Lazarus heard Jesus voice calling him by name and came out. As pictured above, he could see the light and he went towards it. He could have stayed where he was in the darkness!  This journey from death to life is available to anyone who when they hear Jesus calling their name (which he does to all) similarly respond and exit the tomb. Lazarus came out awkwardly because he was bound up in the grave clothes which were mummy like wrappings. But he came as he was, encumbered with all sorts of things, because he believed the voice of God was calling him to life. Thats what I believe and I hope that you will (despite all the doubts and “mummy like wrappings” which we all have) will do the same. 


John 11

'A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people[b] in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!" '
Categories: Friends

Where the cynical pastor misses out

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 30/04/2018 - 08:25
Deadpan, cynical, dry - whatever the words you use, they describe a way of being humorous which undercuts encouragement.
Categories: Friends

How to help people in existential distress: response to Angela Tilby

God Gold and Generals - Sun, 29/04/2018 - 12:58
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How should we best help those in deep distress? 


A desperately sad article in this week's Church Times https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/27-april/comment/columnists/angela-tilby-deliver-us-from-the-evangelical-takeover 
poured scorn on the idea that those in "existential distress" should be "jollied along to Jesus". No doubt there can be a wrong way of talking about Jesus. However the one thing the Lord will never say to us when we meet him face to face is "You spoke too much about me": though he might well  say to  some of us "You haven't spoken rightly about me". As God did to Job's comforters
Now I am all for free speech and evangelicals can and do often get it spectacularly wrong. If you are in deep distress then yes "tea lights" are not the answer (but that sounds awfully like a straw man being torched). No doubt too we evangelicals can be patronising (my apologies to all of my family and friends when I have done this!) and sometimes we  can certainly be crashingly insensitive and lack gentleness, fair enough. (Though its ironic that the battle cry of Angela and her allies is inclusivity and diversity for all — except those awful evangelicals!) 

However, as far as I can tell, the thrust of the article seems to be that people in "existential distress" need something other than a personal encounter with Jesus. I am not at all sure what is meant by "the abandonment of traditional religion with its respect for privacy" (is that perhaps code for "Dont talk about Jesus?" If its "dont use tea lights on the distressed" then I would agree!)
But if I have a choice in my distress between knowing Christ and knowing "traditional religion" thats no choice. 
My solace in existential distress (incurable cancer) is Jesus Christ. That's who I want, not platitudes or bromides or "traditional religion" (whatever it means).

Tim Keller says "When faced with an aspect of Gods will in our life that we want to run away from, we must cling to Jesus and say "Your will be done". Then we can expect the joy of being with him."
I think it would be helpful to look at how Jesus helped the people he met who were in such distress — the sick, suffering, lonely and dying. While we cant do many things that Jesus did (such as raising people from the dead) if we follow him we cant go far wrong.
What can we learn from Jesus in helping people? I list a few stories at the bottom to illustrate my points
The Boy with the evil spirit
1. It's not about us its about him. When the dopey disciples - perhaps they were evangelicals?  :) - tried to help those in distress on their own they fell on their faces. They made a bad situation worse. They hadn't asked God for help. We can help a little someone in distress, but we know someone who can help to the uttermost. We are not the rescuer, he is. 
2. Be gentle, compassionate and and kind. He could have ticked the doubting man off for his lack of faith, or even walked away. Rather, instead, he fans the mans faltering faith into a blaze. We take one timid step homeward and Jesus meets us by taking as it were thousands of steps towards us. 

The man born blind
3. Meet the person where they we are 1 on 1. If we read John's gospel we see Jesus meet all kinds of people everywhere. He mainly mets people in the road, in their place of work. "Few (of his meetings) were in religious settings. Instead, Jesus talked with people about spiritual issues where they were most familiar. He did not need a special environment or control over the circumstances to discuss things of eternal significance." Christians - get out of the church. Go and meet people where they are.
4 Don't view the person in distress as a theological case study. This lets be honest is a temptation we all fall into and especially we awful evangelicals.  The disciples certainly did make this mistake — who sinned this man or his parents? (as he was born blind did they believe in reincarnation? ). The Lord is about meeting people where they are and helping them, not about giving them theological lectures. 
The Samaritan women
She is maybe not in existential distress but she is certainly in deep need
5. He listens and so should we. He knows everything (which we certainly dont) yet most of the conversation is her talking to him. Gently, kindly, he guides her to what she needs - Him. Very often Jesus got the person in distress to tell him what they wanted him to do — and so should we. Wait for the appropriate time (e.g. when they ask "How does Jesus help you in your suffering?") and tell them stories about how Jesus helped people in distress in the bible and how he is helping you now. 
6. Be with the person as long as they need (subject to appropriate boundaries). We are all often prisoners of our too busy diaries, our endless church meetings and committees. I know I am. Jesus, the Son of God met (apparently) randomly this insignificant woman and ended up spending days with her. Often the most important thing that we can do is just be there and listen. Job's comforters did OK until they started giving advice! 
7. Be unshockable. He doesn't condemn her for sleeping around but he gently and kindly puts his finger on the brokenness in her life that only he can heal. When people are angry with God, remember that God criticised Job's comforters for bad theology but not Job for his deep distress and yes anger. 
Lazarus
8. Grieve with the grieving. "Jesus wept". Sometimes thats all we can do, just weep and grieve with the person. We dont have to have answers for everything. Sometimes all we can say is "Lord have mercy". 
The thief on the cross
9. This is very hard, but to the extent we are able, in our own suffering, think also of others. Nailed to the cross, dying, the Lord was witnessing to others and showing them the same love and compassion he did throughout his life. 
Pilates' victims
10. Warn! So far we have thought of how gentle Jesus is with people experiencing suffering. But sometimes suffering is theoretically raised by people who aren't in existential distress, as people did with Jesus who asked him about those murdered by Pilate or killed in an accident. Here the Lord is very clear and stark. Death and suffering in general is a call to repentance. We will all perish away from Jesus unless we turn to him. 
Jesus said to his disciples “....People can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God."
There is only one hope in existential distress. There is nowhere else to go. 

Stories of Jesus dealing with those in distress

the boy with the evil spirit
When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him.“What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked. One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.

The man born blind
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.[a] The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
The Samaritan woman
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim,where our ancestors worshiped?”Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

Lazarus
Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept.
The Thief on the cross
 One of the criminals hanging beside him (ie Jesus) scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise".
Pilate's victims
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About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
Categories: Friends

Personal thoughts on Psalm 91

God Gold and Generals - Mon, 23/04/2018 - 20:12
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Psalm 91 says
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.    He will shelter you with his wings.    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,    though ten thousand are dying around you,    these evils will not touch you...
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer,   I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honour them”

These are wonderful words of comfort which speak powerfully to me.
They can be misused and in fact the devil used this exact Psalm to try and persuade Jesus to throw himself off the temple. Nor do they mean that we will escape illness or death - as I am a good case in point! I am very grateful to be alive but am not cured. Being a Christian is not an escape from suffering. 
But if the Everlasting Father is our "place of safety" we know that ultimately we are "untouchable" for he has given us eternal life. 
This wonderful offer is available to anyone.
How can you then make God your shelter and receive the gift of eternal life?
Firstly, real faith which means more than intellectual assent: it means trust. The one who makes God his dwelling has given his life to God, and trusted God wholeheartedly. Many people say to me "I wish I had your faith". But, its not my faith its a gift from God. If you want it just ask him. 
Second, love. "those who love me" . Our small flickering love comes from Gods love immense and costly love for us "This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins."
Third, personal relationship. “those who trust in (or know) my name” If we make God our shelter then God lives with us and we have a personal relationship with God. Friends this is I have found amazing in tough times. 
Fourth, talking to God (what Christians call prayer). “When they call on me, I will answer”  If God is our Father and our shelter, we can (and must!) call out to God when we are in need. he invites us to do so.
And what are the results of making God our “shelter”?
First, protection. “He will rescue you.” Suffering is not at all excluded from the experience of Christians in this world, we are the same as everyone else, but the final defeat of sin and evil is assured if we are his. "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Second, help. “I will answer him” . God’s answers to our prayers are not always what we would want, but his answers are always for our best, because “Our Father knows best”. 
Third, presence. “I will be with them in trouble”. God has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Jesus said "Yes, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age"
Fourth, rescue. "I will rescue and honour them". This life as my father used to say many times is a  "vale of tears". Being a Christian doesn't mean we can build a bypass round this vale. But it does mean that ultimately God will bring us hime to be with him "and He will wipe away every tear". -------------------With thanks to Geoff Gobbett for drawing my attention to an article by Josh Moody, which i have adapted and modified. 
Categories: Friends

It’s really hard to pull off being a member of the church while you’re also a pastor, isn’t it?

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 23/04/2018 - 20:04
Yet another high profile ministry crashed, leaving a trail of spiritual wreckage and a plume of non-Christian cynicism.  And the lesson again is the deadly nature of being a lone pastor, an unaccountable pastor, a too-senior-to be-talked to-seriously pastor.
Categories: Friends

Discussions with friends 4: does the bible really tell us anything about God?

God Gold and Generals - Fri, 20/04/2018 - 09:42
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Introduction
I am truly grateful for all the many questions that have come pouring in and I am doing my best to answer them, apologies to some of you as I have got a bit behind! I will get to them eventually, promise
ALL QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS ARE MOST WELCOME. If you prefer to be anonymous you can email me on jeremyjeanette.marshall@btinternet.com
The questions below are around "can we really trust the bible"? You might wonder "Does that really matter?". I would suggest it does. Imagine you ask me "whats your mother like?". i could give you 54 years on that (which would all be glowing of course - Mum's my mother!). But if you didnt know her at all, that would be very difficult, effectively you'd have to guess. But if I told you what she was like and you believed me to be reliable, then you could be pretty accurate.
The Christian claim is a striking one - "We know God: not only do we know about him but much more we know him personally." Unless we have some reliable eye witness accounts to go on, then its pure guess work.  To say nothing of the possibility he may not even exist at all. 
Even worse, what tends to happen is we select the bits that fit our culture e.g. "God is love" and remove the bits that dont e.g. "The wages of sin is death". Essentially, if we are guessing, not only will we get it wrong, we will create a God in our own image.
Therefore the reliability and believability of the bible is vital. If its full of errors then its not the best source to tell us about God. It also begs the question - "where does the bible come from"? If it was made up by well intentioned people guessing thats one thing. Our claim is that around 40 different people over 1500 years were inspired by God to tell us what he's like and how we can know him. 

Q: Most, if not all, the authors of the Bible came from the intellectual and religious elite of their day, not least for the reason that the ability to write fluently in antiquity was the preserve of the very well educated ...it makes it unlikely Galilean fishermen composed any books of the New Testament. There are also other reasons to seriously doubt, for example, (that) Peter wrote the epistles attributed to him...during the canonisation of the NT, they made errors of judgment in including the Petrine epistles. (I have shortened some of the questions for reasons of space) 
A: They were evidently educated, but you didn’t have to be elite to be well educated. Ordinary people of course are often highly intelligent and men of all classes at that time in Palestine could obtain a reasonable education. Modern people often assume people doing manual work were uneducated and unintelligent, but it is clear that most people had to work in trades (often a family trade). Paul was a tentmaker, for example, and Jesus came from a family of carpenters. People were often educated by learning things by heart and rote.
Mark’s writing style is actually often recognised as being rather poor. It is therefor not at all implausible to say that it might have been written by Mark (Peter’s interpreter) and based on Peter’s testimony. It is plausible that he was amongst the Christian community, as he mentions, for example, Simon of Cyrene, being the father of Alexander and Rufus. This suggests he knew the figures personally (and that they were known to others).
Matthew is quite a sophisticated writer, but we don’t know exactly what that proves about his education, other than he was from Jewish background, so would have had moved in rabbinic and synagogue circles. One suggestion is that author is Matthew, the tax collector, who does a relatively task requiring a high level of education. 
Luke is a clever guy (classical Greek), who quite possible moved in relatively wealthy circles and if he was a contemporary of Paul, then that obviously is important for the transmission of the information. However, if Theophilis is his patron, he is not in the top echelons.
John's is not very sophisticated Greek, which is why it is often used in teaching Greek.
The issue of 2 Peter is particularly complicated, because it is stylistically different to 1 Peter, but what that reflects is an open question. Some respected commentators (eg Richard Bauckham) for example, dont think 2 Peter is written by Peter, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t connected. 
Q: The time gap between the latest writings of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is not 500 years but a shorter period of two centuries. The book of Daniel consists of works by multiple authors, joined together. Daniel 12 was likely to be written near the end of the reign of the Greek Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE). 
A: The dating of Daniel is highly debated. Conservative scholars completely disagree with your conclusion which is the liberal view, although some on both sides would agree that it may have been at least edited at the time of Maccabees. Does that in the ultimate analysis matter that much? It would if it was something done to be dishonest, but it is understood to be in a particular genre and there are different reactions to that. The bible was clearly edited in many places (eg look at Psalms where the editing was not finished!) 
Q:  The figure of 24K extant NT manuscripts is arrived at by counting individual fragments as a single manuscript, and taking all manuscripts up to invention of the printing press in the 16th century.  The total number of manuscripts from 2nd to 4th century (when the NT was canonised) come to only 76.  The number of manuscripts for Plato's works up to 8th century CE is 114:  I suspect the figure of 7 cited in your article refers to manuscripts of a complete book.

A; I have made a point of the fact that the manuscript evidence of the NT writings is so much better than classical writings, but it is I agree not ultimately conclusive. It is designed to address the claim that we cant rely on them, they have all been doctored or miscopied.It does show that the disciples were busy and valued them and copied them (and to a much greater extent than the followers of say Julius Caesar). That kind of argument can be helpful when classical scholars take Tacitus, for example, very seriously even when there is hardly any evidence for hundreds and hundreds of years after. Furthermore, the scribes of the NT were very good. The bigger question is how true to life does the contents of the NT seem, given what we know about the history context. The answer is it does paint a picture that we recognise from that era.

Q: It is indeed remarkable the Dead Seas Scrolls show the bulk of the Hebrew Bible has not changed much during the 1000 years. Nonetheless it is an overstatement to claim "None changed in any way the meaning of the text." First, the Qumran scrolls contain books not in our Hebrew Bible, suggesting that the Hebrew Bible canon was still in flux in the 1st century CE. Second, there are significant changes in the meaning of some passages, which provide an illuminating insight into evolution of the ancient Jewish religion. For example, the version of Deuteronomy found among the Qumran Scrolls gives strong hint that the earliest Israelite religion, as practised by the deuteronomic author, was polytheist. 

A: This sounds highly unlikely. There is discussion about whether early Judaism had a view of the supreme God and other lesser ones. But by NT time, Judaism was quite clearly monotheistic, which is one of the major features of it and one that was highly distinctive in Roman times. What is extremely striking and jumps out a mile is how close the Dead Sea Scrolls are in the text to what we had before they were discovered. 
Categories: Friends

Your church’s Annual Meeting – essential Do’s and Don’t’s

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Thu, 19/04/2018 - 17:35
I'm sure I'm not the only pastor who dreads Annual Meetings.  I've seen them hijacked by silly side issues, falling apart in blazing rows, or just  quietly managing decline.
Categories: Friends

"Is the church serious about evangelism?" my article in Premier Christianity

God Gold and Generals - Wed, 18/04/2018 - 19:22


The Church isn't serious about evangelism. But this new tool is bringing hundreds to faith18th April 2018Don't outsource evangelism to the 'experts', says Jeremy MarshallIn 1914 Britain was completely unprepared for a major land war.A tiny British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of six infantry divisions was cobbled together at the last minute and sent to France to try and stop the mighty German steamroller sweeping west. Fortunately, a French army of roughly comparable size to the Germans was able to halt the German advance.But by the time the decisive victory was achieved in 1918 the British Army had over 6 million men under arms. Britain had finally mobilised its resources and achieved victory, albeit at a huge cost. We face a similar challenge regarding evangelism in our country to that of Britain in 1914. We are trying to carry out the Great Commission but we are simply not serious. We are only using a tiny fraction of our God given resources. Many Christians feel its wrong or hopeless to share our faith and even those who are trying to carry it out often don’t know how.Let’s be honest, how much of their time do our full time church workers put into evangelism? Their time tends to be more internally focused. Yes, they may run courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored. They may also preach evangelistic messages, but how many non Christians actually hear them?The burden of evangelism instead falls onto our BEF - a tiny handful of overworked evangelists to whom we have effectively outsourced the Great Commission. Yet Jesus’ orders are to all of us, not just the professionals. 18 months ago I discovered a wonderful new tool which has proved incredibly effective in helping me to be equipped to share my faith. I believe it could be a game-changer for us in the battle to save souls. It's called The Word One to Oneand the concept is very simple.You begin by simply inviting your friend to have a chat about the Bible. If they agree, you find a convenient location, sit down with a copy of The Word One to One notes, open John's gospel and off you go. I have found it an amazingly powerful tool which has been transformational for many of my friends. I've had 15 friends join me in this process of studying the Bible over the past 18 months. One friend of mine invited someone to look at John's gospel because he thought it would be comforting after the death of his friend’s wife. The man eagerly accepted, without saying that his daughter, living 4000 miles away, was doing the same thing with another Christian and had just said to her father that she was finding it very comforting! The use of Word One to One has spread like wildfire throughout the world and it’s been used in countless churches. It mobilises potentially every Christian, but it works most of all because it’s Gods appointed means to reach lost humanity. John himself told us “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)The Bible itself is full of one to one Bible work - Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch and the Lord himself on the road to Emmaus.When our friends read the Bible something supernatural happens - God himself steps off the page. When they read John they read about a series of encounters the Lord has with men and women and how they come to believe that he is the Saviour of the world. By the power of the Holy Spirit the same thing happens.A friend of mine led someone to faith using the notes and asked him what it was that he had said that impacted him. “To be honest“, came the reply, “I can’t remember a single thing you said, but John had me at ‘In the beginning was the word’. I suddenly thought to myself ‘You are a fool. Dawkins is wrong, there has to be a beginning. John went on to tell me who that Word was and what he had come to do. It was nothing you said, it was the Word.”It also works because it’s a low threshold for our friends to step over. In a biblically ignorant age, asking our friends to come to church is a high hurdle to climb over. A professional that they don’t know, speaking in a place where they feel very uncomfortable, surrounded by unknown people singing songs they don’t know, at a time that may not suit them, can be a high barrier. But The Word One to One takes a person through the gospel at his or her own pace and builds knowledge of God slowly and surely. God calls each of us to stand up, be mobilised and share our faith. We are not all Bible teachers but we are called to be Bible sharers.Jeremy Marshall is a banker, charity trustee, Watford FC fan, blogger and speaker For more information about The Word One to One visit theword121.com#
Categories: Friends

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