Blogroll Category: Friends

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 33 posts from the category 'Friends.'

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How to survive an intense season of ministry

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 24/06/2019 - 18:00
This wasn’t just being busy; this was a series of simultaneous responsibilities with a major price tag, and a lot of grieving people.
Categories: Friends

Keep it simple in evangelism

God Gold and Generals - Mon, 24/06/2019 - 10:47

John Stevens blog is always excellent and the latest is no exception
He says 
“Gospel ministry ought to be fundamentally simple: Glorify God, love people, pray for opportunities and boldness, tell people about Jesus. The danger is that we over-engineer these fundamentally basic tasks. We complicate the message and the method, and insist on such a high level of training for the messengers that we cannot meet the needs of the hour. For example, sermons become overly complex lectures on systematic or biblical theology that do no preach Christ with a clarity and directness. 
This tendency to over-engineer ministry also makes it harder to multiply ministry. If we make evangelism over-complex and intellectual, requiring lengthy training, then it is no wonder that we fail to produce confident church members who can speak simply to others about Jesus. We...make them feel inadequate and incapable of ever attaining the skills we have inadvertently taught to be essential....The vast majority of the work of the gospel in the world today is, as it always has been, done by relatively uneducated church members who love Christ, rely on the power of his Spirit, pray fervently, and have confidence that the simple gospel message declaring Jesus to be Lord is God’s power for salvation.”
I’d like to expand on this, relating to evangelism.
Firstly we have often drawn a sharp distinction in evangelism between highly trained “professionals” and “amateurs”. Professionals do evangelism (or should do, a different question is whether they actually do) and amateurs pay the professionals to do the evangelism. This looks to me very like the division in the Middle Ages between clergy and laity. I am not recommending we all become Brethren and  abandon “full time Christian ministry” but I am saying that actually most people who become Christians do so because they were reached by a friend. Everybody has a role to play. This is surely also biblical - we all need to be able to give a reason for the hope we have, not just professionals. If we are feeling that our church is like going to a sports match (ie everyone else sits there and enjoys the show) but with less comfortable seats, something has gone badly wrong. 
Secondly, there  are many different Greek words used in the NT for proclaiming and sharing our faith,  but we seem to have reduced them to one: “preaching”  being a man standing on a piece of wood six foot above the congregation in a place of worship, on a Sunday morning when he speaks for about 30-45 minutes. This is certainly an important activity for equipping the Christian  but the truth is there are precious few non Christians there and the ones that are are mainly children forced to be there by their parents (which by the way is a good thing!). In the past even in my childhood there was a large fringe of unconverted people on the church and while there may still be a few in our churches the vast majority of non Christian people will never darken our doors. Why should they? We have to go and find them, not expect them to come to us. The sower went out to sow, he didn't stay at home. We conservative evangelicals risk so stressing a strict definition of preaching (and often as John says even that is often to be done in an overly academic way) that we risk reducing everyone else’s involvement in the church in a way that’s simply not biblical. I am all for great pastors but surely their role is these days, when so few non believers are church, is like a coach, mobilising and equipping the “team”.  The great commission is for all not only pastors but for everyone.
Thirdly John is right to stress the danger of an overly intellectual approach. That’s certainly an error that I have easily fallen into, a love of theology without a love for people. As is well known the human brain works in a left brain fashion  (logical, order, problem solving. rational), and a right brain way (creative, emotions, artistic, intuitive). Left brain tends to think in words and right brain to think non verbally in pictures. We Conservative evangelicals tend to be very left brain orientated. We need to use the word (left brain) to engage with our right brain feelings (something I personally dislike doing!). Even when we use words they tend to be conceptual rather than story based.  This can result in an overly professional and an overly intellectual approach. Closely related, this kind of cerebral approach tends to appeal most of all to intellectuals, who tend to congregate in university towns and big cities such as London. There is a major discrepancy in the allocation of resources within British evangelicalism towards those areas and away from deprived areas. 
Finally but most importantly, the key thing in evangelism I believe is just "to have a go", however simple and weak. The power is in the word, not in us. This is the power of God's word. We feel that we can’t share our faith and in fact that’s right. We can’t. But God decided to use weak human “vessels of clay” to transport his amazing truth. And he promised us that he will be with us and use us despite all our imperfections, sins - weakness. We just have to “go for it”. As a late comer to evangelism I have found that often the most effective ways of witnessing are the simplest eg:-
"Do you have any particular beliefs?"
"What do you think about the Christian faith?"
"Did you ever look at the Bible?"
"Would you mind if I prayed for you?"
Answers to questions
"How was your weekend?"

"Good thanks we had a great BBQ at our church" (Voila - you've witnessed!)
"How are you doing?"

"Ok thanks, I'm finding dealing with X hard but i find my faith so helpful"
Expressing sympathy 
"Oh I'm really sorry, you know when i went through X i found this (eg Psalm 23) so helpful"
Tell a short simple bible story in your own words about Jesus: there are many, here are a few I have found helpful 
Prodigal son 
Resurrection of Lazarus
Road to Emmaus
Pharisee and Tax collector going up to pray
The man with the demon possessed son "Lord I believe help my unbelief"
Rich man and Lazarus
The simpler and easier to understand the better. After all, seed is very small and very simple. The key is that we need to use it, to throw out the seed. The power is in the simple small seed. 

Categories: Friends

Up and down (Luke 18 & 19)

Sussex Parson - Mon, 24/06/2019 - 10:11

Humbling and exalting is a theme in Luke 18-19.

Two men go up to the temple to pray (18:9). One man exalts himself and the other humbles himself. This latter and not the other goes down to his house justified before God (18:14).

Zacchaeus exalts himself. He went up onto a sycamore tree (19:4) but Jesus commanded him to come down at once (19:5). Zacchaeus humbles himself and repents and Jesus exalts him, declaring that salvation has come to his house and that Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham. Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Ordinary Time

Sussex Parson - Tue, 11/06/2019 - 13:11

From The Rectory

As you may know, the Church of England divides the year into “Seasonal Time” (the festivals of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and so on, associated with the life of Jesus) and what is known as “Ordinary Time”. After Pentecost or Whitsun on Sunday 9th June, we entered the long period of Ordinary Time which continues until Advent Sunday on 1stDecember.

It seems to me there’s wisdom in this division of time into the seasonal festivities and the ordinary. In life there are special occasions and great events, but much is ordinary and mundane. It does us good to come to terms with that. It would be a sign of immaturity if we were constantly unsettled and needing novelty. God always sees and knows. He never gets tired or bored. He cares about the little things as well as the big things, the normal, the ordinary and the routine. Wednesday afternoon, Friday night and Sunday morning might be different, but they all matter.

Sometimes there will be crises which have a great impact on us. We might suddenly be hit with a life-changing medical diagnosis, for example. One moment can change everything. Some generations live through extraordinary times. At the beginning of June, we particularly remembered the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. How can we know how we might have reacted if we had been required to storm an enemy beach under machine-gun fire? But most of us will not be at the centre of such an epoch defining event. Character is largely formed in the ordinary. It is sometimes then tested in the extraordinary, but perhaps more often it is proved in regular day to day faithfulness in the circumstances which God gives us, whether they seem momentous to us or not.

The Bible tells us not to despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10). In Jesus’ parable of the Shrewd Manager, Jesus says: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). Or again, in the Parable of the Talents, the Master says: “'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'” (Matthew 25:21).

Ephesians 6:10-20 can feel like one of the most exciting and dramatic passages in the letter. Spiritual warfare and the armour of God are stirring and heroic themes. But it’s striking that this passage follows hot on the heals of instructions about relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters (or employers and employees, as we might apply it). The great battles of the Christian life are sometimes fought out not in conscious confrontation with demonic hordes but in the presence of our loved ones at the kitchen sink. We might feel we would love to do great things for God, but the frontline of our fight for godliness this week might be patience with the kids when we’re all tired and hungry, or being considerate to our spouse, or a hundred little interactions that seem humdrum and insignificant. If we could see things from God’s perspective, we might see these daily opportunities for sin or for godliness as just as dramatic in their way as the stuff of which history is made.

Habit can be a great help (or hinderance!) in the Christian life. The Bible sometimes likens living for Jesus to a race. It is often more like a marathon than a sprint and it calls for a long obedience in the same direction. It might not be glamourous, but there is much to be said for faithfully plodding on, praying for God’s help to walk with Jesus. If we regularly chip away at some great task, over time, lots can be achieved. Many people have found over the years that a regular daily pattern of prayer and Bible reading has been a great help to them. Even something as simple as a bookmark, or a Bible reading plan, or some Bible reading notes, could make a real difference to just a short time each day deliberately paying attention to God’s Word.

Maybe we might pray that God would show us, perhaps in the midst our ordinary things, where our real battles for Christlikeness are. May God keep us faithful to him both in the special and in the ordinary.

The Revd Marc Lloyd

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Study on atheists and agnostics shows surprising results

God Gold and Generals - Mon, 10/06/2019 - 10:39

This fascinating, brand new research by the University of Kent (my local university no less) is compelling reading. Looking at six countries (USA, UK, Japan, China, Denmark, Brazil) they have thoiroughly researched what athiests and agnostics believe. 
I have summarised their  summary as follows
1. Atheists and agnostics  exhibit significant diversity both within, and between, different countries. There are very many ways of being an unbeliever 
2 In "Christian" countries quite a few atheists and agnostics identify as Christians; a majority of unbelievers were brought up as Christians. 
3. Relatively few unbelievers select ‘Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic’ as their preferred  identity. 
4. Popular assumptions about ‘convinced, dogmatic atheists’ do not stand up to scrutiny. On average, Atheists and agnostics are about the same or even less confident than believers that their beliefs about God are correct  
5. Unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena. Atheists and (less so) agnostics exhibit lower levels of supernatural belief than do the wider populations. However, only minorities of atheists or agnostics in each of our countries appear to be thoroughgoing naturalists. 
 6. Another common supposition — that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe — also does not bear scrutiny. While atheists and agnostics are disproportionately likely to affirm that the universe is ‘ultimately meaningless’ in five of our countries, it still remains a minority view among unbelievers in all six countries.  
7. Atheists and agnostics endorse the realities of objective moral values, human dignity etc at similar rates to the general populations in their countries. 
8. There is remarkably high agreement between unbelievers and general populations concerning the values most important for ‘finding meaning in the world and your own life’. ‘Family’ and ‘Freedom’ ranked highly for all. 
What shall we say of the implications for us?
1. We often jump to wrong conclusions about what our friends believe. We "get them wrong". 
2. The openness of most of our non Christian friends to "something being there" in this research is blindingly obvious. We tend to think that the aggressive atheist, the Richard Dawkins, "the man with the mic" speaks for everyone. But thats simply not true. In my experience of asking people to do 121 (about 60 people)  I have yet to meet anyone who is a convinced atheist. Most people are "none of the above". The fact that a lot of agnostics and even a substantial minority of atheists think something is there beyond the purely natural world means this is an obvious opportunity for us
3. Everyone is different. Dont assume anything. Ask your friends questions to understand where they are coming from, listen carefully and respectfully to their views and only then share yours in return. John 4 is the example to follow. 
4. Most people know virtually zero about the bible. As Glen Scrivener says, we tend to underestimate our friends intelligence and thoughtfulness and overestimate their bible knowledge. Offer to chat about the bible with them 121. 121 is the best way I find precisely because everyone is different and “one size doesnt fit all”. There is supernatural power in doing this using God’s word. 
5. The fact that we share with almost everyone basic human values is an obvious opportunity to ask something like "why do you think those values are important?". 
6. The same about the purpose of life — most people are seeking for such a purpose (as the Bible tells us!). Again we can seek to build a bridge using this. “What do you think its all about?' 
7. Even the very small minority of devout atheists can be reached - God can do what he likes. Think of the Apostle Paul! 
8. Most of our friends are not as confident in their beliefs as they may appear. If we genuinely love them, genuinely care for them and are confident but not aggressive or patronising in our faith, we can with God's help, using his word,  reach them
Categories: Friends

Towards a Pentecost All Age Activity / Assembly

Sussex Parson - Sat, 08/06/2019 - 10:57

Some Google translations of "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21)

I did diligently check Google translate for the places names in v9, but the internet seems weak on Parthian!

(1)   Modern Greek: Óloi ósoi kaloún to ónoma tou Kyríou tha sothoún

(2)   Latin: Omnis enim quicumque invocaverit nomen Domini salvus erit

(3)   Arabic: sayatimu hifz kli min yadeu biaism alrabi

A random selection of languages:

(4)   Welsh: Bydd pawb sy'n galw ar enw'r Arglwydd yn cael eu hachub

(5)   Danish: Alle, der kalder på Herrens navn, vil blive frelst

(6)   Zulu: Wonke umuntu obiza egameni leNkosi uzosindiswa

(7)   Hawaiian: E ho'ōlaʻia nā mea a pau e kāhea aku i ka inoaʻo ka Haku

(8)   Spanish: Todos los que invocan el nombre del Señor serán salvos.

(9)   French: Tous ceux qui invoquent le nom du Seigneur seront sauvés

(10)                   German: Jeder, der den Namen des Herrn anruft, wird gerettet

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

My "Spectator" Article on living with cancer

God Gold and Generals - Sun, 02/06/2019 - 12:54

This article by me was published last month on the web site of "The Spectator" a well known British magazine.“I’m sorry,” said the doctor, “you have large tumours in numerous places. We can’t operate or cure you. You have 18 months to live”. With those words, I burst into tears. In that mundane hospital room, my life changed. The job I love – I worked as boss of a private bank – was gone. My priorities shifted immediately. Nobody on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office. When my time comes, I was determined I would not have that regret. I wanted to make the most of however long I had left.Nearly four years on, I am still alive thanks to my wonderful oncologist and staff at the Royal Marsden hospital. My fight with cancer has not been easy. Problems with my eyes nearly left me blind. I’ve been through nine operations, radiotherapy and four complete rounds of chemotherapy. But the hardest part of living with terminal cancer isn’t the treatment; it’s the grief I have caused to the people I love. I could hardly bear to tell my wife and children about my diagnosis. My mother, who is in her eighties, said: “I wish it was me”.Living with cancer can be terrifying: the sword of Damocles dangles over my head. I have been fortunate in getting longer than my initial diagnosis suggested. Still, I know that my days are numbered. I have scans every couple of months. Each test brings with it an anxious wait for results. Yet cancer also brings with it the unexpected; a simple joy at being alive. Each day that comes is a blessing. I have been fortunate enough to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding last month. This weekend I will watch my football team play in an FA Cup final. Less remarkable days are wonderful too; going to the shops, walking the dog. Philip Larkin was right when he spoke of the ‘million-petalled flower/ of being here’. It took cancer to make me realise what he meant.My faith has been important too. As a Christian, I ask myself: ‘Where is God in my suffering?’. I assure myself that I am not alone in confronting this dilemma. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who stood up for Jews under the Nazis. Shortly before he was executed in April 1945, he smuggled out of his cell this message ‘only a suffering God can help us’. Jesus knows what it is like to suffer and he knows it first hand. In my fight with cancer, I find that immensely comforting.There’s more: he also knows what it’s like to die. I recently gave a speech about cancer in Parliament and was struck by the consensus of the discussion: society doesn’t want to talk about death. Few subjects are off the table nowadays, but dying is surely one of them; it is one of our last taboos. In facing death, I know that it is a frightening thing. So why don’t we talk about it? After all, it’s cold comfort to be told by Richard Dawkins that ‘DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.’I recently attended a funeral where the celebrant said mournfully: ‘There is no answer to death’. But I believe there is – and it brings me great hope. In the short time left for me in this world, I can think of nothing more important than sharing that hope with others.This yearning to find such hope is powerful. Eddie Izzard, who tragically lost his mother to cancer when he was six, says ‘everything I do in life is trying to get her back.’ He continued: ‘I have a very strong sense that we are only on this planet for a short length of time…it would be nice if just one person came back and let us know it was all fine… of all the billions of people who have died, if just one of them could come through the clouds and say ‘It’s me, Jeanine, it’s brilliant, there’s a really good spa’, that would be great.’My heart goes out to him when I read those words. But I am convinced, because of my Christian faith, that someone – Jesus – did indeed come back. As I’m wheeled in for another operation – or when I have days of facing up to my imminent mortality – the words from Psalm 23 are on my lips: “Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me”. Perhaps it’s all just wishful thinking? It’s a fair point to make. It’s true that hope with no factual basis is nothing more than a delusion. Yet I am convinced that the Christian story is real – and it brings me hope, even in the depths of my despair.Jeremy Marshall is former CEO of the UK’s oldest private bank, C. Hoare & Co. He was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2016
Categories: Friends

Encouragements to keep going with Christian outreach in schools

God Gold and Generals - Wed, 29/05/2019 - 09:07

I was recently very surprised to see several comments in different places that Christians are now effectively barred from speaking in schools. I write this to encourage us to keep going with our efforts on spreading the good word in schools. No doubt there are a few schools that are closed, and there are certainly issues like the vicar in Essex who recently resigned because of issues around dealing with a transgender pupil, but many in my and others experiences are wide open. 
Perhaps we risk becoming defeatist? We may think everyone is against us? We are tempted to give up and circle the wagons? But there is no reason to do this. Yes a tiny minority of people are vocally anti Christian but most people are not hostile to us, rather they are indifferent and don’t even know what the Christian faith is actually about. We perhaps in the past have had a  privileged place (especially Anglicans with church schools) but now we need to compete on a level playing field in the market place of ideas. But if - as we should - we have confidence in the truth of our convictions, more than that we believe in the supernatural transformative power of God's word - then we will boldly sally out into schools. 
We need to be wise in how we do that and I trust that the examples below will both encourage us and teach us how best to approach schools. What’s the worst that can happen if we ask them politely and in a friendly spirit? Some will say yes, others no but there are thousands of schools so “let’s go for it” in faith. 
I give four examples to encourage you. Each of which is well known to me. Two are from poorer urban settings with very large ethnic minorities from other faiths. Two are from more traditional "shire" settings with a mainly white, English, middle class nominal “Christian” population. Two people are pastor or vicar, one is a youth worker and one is a layman. Two are free church, two Anglican, with an age range from 20s to nearly 60. 
In addition,  I have added a piece from OCCA about their work in schools. If you have teenagers who have lots of questions, whether they are Christian or not, the Zacharias Trust is organising a REBOOT youth apologetics day at Westminster Central Hall, London on 21stSeptember. 
You can find out more and hear previous talks and questions at I recommend this event very highly and OCCA is a fantastic source of resources, ideas and speakers. . 
I have kept the comments anonymous to avoid any awkwardness! 
Some obvious points which I think come from all of the contributions. 
  1. Pray! 
  2. Show Polite Persistence
  3. Be brave and bold - “go for it”! 
  4. Get if possible invitations from within schools
  5. Work with other like minded churches if possible  
  6. Work with what the schools will offer - if they ask for 15 minutes on subject x give them that
  7. Tell people about Jesus (obvs). 
  8. Find good speakers (sometimes lay people can be more acceptable to schools than clergy) 
  9. Be creative and use good resources eg Crossteach, OCCA/Reboot.
  10. Interfaith dialogue events where each religion gets the chance to speak about what they believe can be great. (This is not the same at all as multi faith services!)  We can even preach the gospel to the representatives of other faiths that way! A friendly, respectful and loving tone while maintaining Christian distinctives works well 

Example 1 
“Our opportunities in schools have really mushroomed this year.  A local secondary school agreed to work in partnership with us and Crossteach for RE - leading to 500 girls coming for 1 hour interactive workshops at our church with our youth team - they were fun and engaging, and with a really clear and faithful explanation of the gospel.  Then at Easter I helped facilitate another Secondary School to bring 240 students in Year 8 to a partner church near their school.Meanwhile we've also had 3 mini-teams doing Harvest, Christmas and Easter Assemblies around the area - this year between us we've done 41 assemblies in 21 different schools.  Had the chance to explain the gospel to about 4000 children!
Here's a few thoughts on how we got into schools - which I know may be pretty tightly tied to our urban context here, and might not work for every church.  Praying and getting your church praying is obviously essential, but here are some other specifics.
Primary Schools1.  Start with Church Schools - they are pretty open to Christian ministers, youth workers or parents coming in - especially at Christmas or Easter. (I got into one of our local Church Primary Schools way back in 2001 to do an assembly, and foolishly didn't follow it up or make it a regular occurrence until a few years ago!)  It's a good place to get started, develop what you do and build a good reputation - as head teachers speak to each other.  Then you can start to offer them to other schools in your area.
2.  Work together with other churches.  Three years ago 2 parents from other churches were asking for help to do a Christmas Nativity Style assembly in a couple of schools - so I offered to get involved, helped to fine-tune the script and then delivered the assembly in 3 primary schools - including one near our church.  It's a hunch that I can't prove... but I think Schools are less wary of us, if we're working together - it's not just one cranky church or sect - but like minded Christian churches, parents & youth workers working together across the area.  And it certainly helps with resources - one person is creative, another is a clear thinker/writer, another is great with music or props: 1 Corinthians 12 in action - Unity and Diversity - many different parts of the body all working together.  We now have 10 people from 8 different churches, running 3 teams covering different geographical areas of the surrounding area.  
3.  Use personal introductions.  The second school in our area that we got into was my own children's school - and now we've been doing Easter and Christmas there for the last 3 years - and even though we will have none of our own children there next year, they're still keen for us to continue.  This pattern has been repeated many times - the key that has opened a school has been a Christian parent approaching the school first, or a Christian teacher, or a teacher who knows the church or youth worker well.
4.  Be brave and Be prepared to take opportunities.  It is scary doing assemblies, and it takes a lot of work - but it's worth it!  My first assembly at one school was when their normal vicar was away and uncontactable, to they asked me to do his Harvest assembly instead  (and I actually mentioned "God"!!).  Another school asked us to be on their InterFaith panel during Interfaith week with one day's notice, as someone else had pulled out.  A brave and godly colleague of mine agreed, and as a result we started Christmas and Easter assemblies there too.  
5.  Developing things further.  We've taken some photos & collected some quotes from teachers to create a mini-flyer which is helpful for approaching new schools.  We've also partnered with a Christian Schools Work Charity (Crossteach in our case.  But there are other good ones too!) which helps for looking professional & educational and having resources and ideas.
Secondary SchoolsThese have been a tougher nut to crack in our area, and taken longer, so...
1.  Serve the Schools & be patient.  We have run lunch-time arts & crafts clubs in our 2 local secondary schools for 10 years now, and the schools pay a bit towards it as they really value it.  But they are non-religious clubs - just Christians running arts & crafts, being kind & chatting.  We've had to be patient - while longing to have more gospel opportunities.
2.  Use Crossteach!  After 6-7 years we started pro-actively offering to get involved with the RE department - either to help in a lesson on Christianity or to host a class visit to a church building.  We got one class on a church visit, thought it would be the start of many, but it was the only one!  When we partnered with Crossteach and offered their Christmas Experience last year, one of the schools sent 10 classes to the church for amazing, creative, full-on one-hour gospel opportunities  This year the other school sent 10 classes for Christmas and 9 classes for Easter, and another school linked to a partner church sent 8 classes for Easter.  Crossteach has been the key for us over the last 2 years.”
Example 2 
“I am originally from Pakistan and am serving the local community for over 15 years. Our church provides Winter and Half youth activities and trips for the local families. We also offer football and cricket training on Friday nights. On average we get 25-35 children attending at the moment every week. We are hoping to start a Toddler Group in the summer. We have very good relationship with the local parents. Most of the children who attend our youth activity go to local schools and they will tell you about the RE teacher and what they have been learning in their RE lessons. That  gives you some idea where the teacher stands on spiritual issues.
How to approach Schools?I email and call the schools reception office asking  if they could pass on my message to the Head of RE and offering if they  would like me to come and speak over Easter, Christmas and before Summer and after the Summer break. I have been regularly going into our nearest Infant/Primary School at least 3 times a year. Which means 500 children and 30 teachers are listening to me talk on  the true meaning of Easter and Christmas. 
Recently I've decided to walk into three local school without appointment (not necessarily recommended! ) but it worked. Out of these three schools the Lord opened a door into a new school. There were more then 300 children present and then I was asked to speak to the reception class as well. I have  taken an Easter assembly and I have been already booked to speak over Christmas. 
One mainly Muslim secondary school nearby  recently approached me as their year 11 students have taken the Christian faith as their GCSE subject. They are hoping to visit the church and they are also keen for me to visit the school and speak to the children. 
I have been really burdened by seeing so many new schools serving other faiths  opening up in our area and I have written to them but still haven't heard from them. I am hoping to call and visit the school. 
My advice is to have a good relationship with whoever is responsible to RE lessons and school assembly. If you can exchange personal email address or mobile number which help with future communication. 
We as Christians must tell children, teachers and parents what is the true meaning of Easter and Christmas: that's its about the Lord Jesus Christ. If we don’t then instead the secular world will teach them what Christmas and Easter is not. We shouldn't be surprised when children are asked “ tell us what you think about Easter?”  and the reply we get its about bunnies and chocolate eggs while Christmas is about holidays, Santa Claus, gifts, food and drink. 
Sadly even Christian parents also have given into this kind of thinking. I have met and known Christian parents and Sunday school teachers who never taught their own children about the Christian faith. I feel they think its intrusive or that we are imposing Christian belief on them but they are happy to teach in the Sunday school to other children. Same parents will teach their children everything else except the Christian faith. In my experience some Christian parents who never taught their own children about Christian faith are instead happy for the school to teach whatever they want. This is sad”. 

Example 3 “ I regularly speak in different schools. My home town has a wide range of schools. One academy was supported by and is receptive of the efforts of local Christians. An apologetics group involving sixth formers was formed with help from Christian teachers, one lady in particular being absolutely amazingly passionate about starting this effort and generally spreading the good word . The enthusiastic members of this group having received some apologetics training from her and me and other local church members and staff, they  decided to put on a series of open events in the school looking at different apologetics issues. These were open to all and the panel included pupils and teachers. The events went well and various other amazing speaking opportunities for me and others came off the back of that. 
Our local church vicar and youth leader  have been very supportive and have allowed me and others who are enthusiastic about apologetics to run sessions for the youth group with q and a about all kinds of hot topics. Some of the sixth formers were being ridiculed in class for their faith and it was really great to be able to equip them with ways of answering the typical questions and objections raised.

I speaks regularly at a wide variety of schools,  always invited in by teachers.  just to take one example I spoke recently at a girls school in London where I was invited in by a member of staff who courageously set up an open lunch  and invited staff and pupils. Many staff came and listened carefully.

I also receive regular requests for speakers from other schools and delight in connecting suitable speakers to the schools. A lot of people I know from networking but the best overall source for apologetic resources and speakers is occa. Their “reboot” series is amazing for 14-18 year old school pupils to get great apologetic teaching.

My advice is that it’s so helpful  to have a friendly parent staff member or pupil doing the inviting. Next we need to find a good topic that suits the audience. Examples of ones that seem to work well include “What is success?” “Being a Christian in x field” “What’s the Christian faith all about?” and “how can a loving God allow suffering?”. Often good speakers are not necessarily clergy but laypeople with an interesting personal story. The talks themselves should avoid harsh criticism of other viewpoints and focus on what’s good and distinctive about the Christian faith rather than bashing others arguments. Q and A I suggest is usually the most important part. "
Example 4
"My child has been attending a CofE school that is connected with the local village church.   Although there was a lovely Vicar already responsible for assemblies, little gospel content was being communicated to the children.  I thought I’d take a chance and sent an email to the head teacher offering to explain the Easter Story from a Christian perspective.  They gladly accepted!  The assembly went well and in the Lord’s kindness I’ve been invited back to do all the assemblies for next term because the Vicar is temporarily tied up with other responsibilities."
Finally, I also add this general example from OCCA, whom i have found amazingly helpful in this area 
Example 5: Stories from the OCCA Engaging with Students"Being in schools is exciting and daunting. Young people ask honest questions, and – if you have the privilege of building deeper relationship with them – lots of questions. We were able to take a team of university students into a secondary, boarding school. The chaplain at the school is a Christian, and he had invited us to give a week of talks on key topics. During lunch times, we addressed intellectual objections people bring toward the Christian faith (Why isn’t God more Obvious? Can We Trust the Bible?). During the evenings, we gave talks on practical and existential questions people have about Christianity (What is Success? Why would God Allow Suffering?). Being at a school for an entire week allowed us to build a great momentum and rapport with the students. 
Two stories really stick out. Early in the week, we met a senior student. He was very bright and had a lot of questions. After the first talk, I stayed back chatting with him. Throughout the week, he met with our team at different points, always with a lot of difficult questions. We were honoured to share in the conversation with him. On the final evening, he came up to me to say goodbye and he said these words, “At the start of the week, I was just interested in asking difficult questions because I thought Christianity was false. You’ve forced me to think again, and I never realised there was so much evidence for it. Thank you.”
On the Wednesday, I was speaking on Christian ethics. Afterwards, I started chatting with another student. He confessed that he used to be a Christian, and would go on Christian camps, and did the whole Jesus thing. But then, since coming to high school, he had stopped pursuing God. We got to explore why that might have been the case, and he shared openly. After chatting for a while, he turned to me and said something astounding. He said, “You know, I’ve been here for five years and I’ve never had someone take my questions this seriously.” I got to pray with him and his friend, and they came to further talks we delivered later in the week."
Categories: Friends

EU election assessment: in search of compromise.

God Gold and Generals - Mon, 27/05/2019 - 20:57

Good afternoon  to all my friends:  leavers and remainers alike. How to make sense of the UK election results from last night? 
It’s obvious that we have Christians on both sides of the debates and this is good and right, as the last thing we need is God being hijacked for one side or the other. God is far bigger than our laughably petty political views. We must at all costs avoid what has happened in the USA where being an evangelical Christian often means hitching the church to President Trump. This just serves to alienate 50% of the population.  Jesus said ”my kingdom is not of this world” and “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations” rather than “go into all the world and start political parties of a right leaning character”. 
Personally,  I’m pro remain but think we should respect the 2016 referendum result. 
But my views are  not the point: “blessed are the peacemakers” says the good book  not “blessed are the polarised.” Surely, as Christians in our now even more divided and alienated nation, we should now be advocating reconciliation? 
The results show the collapse of the nuanced (some might say muddled!) middle and the strengthening of the “I’m wholly right and you're completely wrong” parties. the big winners were the Brexit party and those opposing Brexit: the Lib Dems and the Greens. Those in the middle of the road got punished. 

As Christians we have a wonderful opportunity to rise above politics (do you think we will care about Brexit in heaven? Do you think it should even be in our top 10 issues as Christians today? ). That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t advocate for our positions but can we please do that in a friendly and loving spirit, with an ethos of being willing to reach out across the divide ? And try and find the best way of reaching out to our opponents ? I search in vain for the verse “blessed are the triumphalistic”. This is a particular challenge for the 52% Brexiteers who won,  as otherwise we risk festering and bitterness continuing. What began with milkshakes may end with much worse. It’s time to try and bind up the wounds of our nation not pour more salt into them. 
So what might this Spirit of reconciliation translate into? As well as respecting each other’s views  I suggest we also should be
1. Respecting the 2016 democratic vote by leaving the EU. This is fundamental: I can fully understand the anger from my Brexit supporting friends with the continued attempts to rerun the vote until we get the “right” result.  Leaving will immediately end this sense of betrayal. david Owen rightly said "the elites can't take defeat. The British tradition is: the umpires finger goes up and you walk and these people dont know how to walk". 

2. Respecting the 48% by leaving on a friendly basis with as close as ties as possible with the EU, while still outside the EU. A hard brexit (besides being a foolish idea) will only inflame the feelings of remainers while a soft one (or an interim one which can be adjusted later such as “Norway for now”) will tend to reconcile bitter remainers with the result. There was no proposal of a hard brexit in the 2016 campaign (in fact we were told the exact opposite) and nor is there a majority for it in Parliament or country. 

3. Respecting democracy by having whatever is proposed approved by a democratic vote in Parliament  Democracy can be annoying and the current chaos is embarrassing, but it’s the best system we have. To my Brexit supporting friends: if you don’t like the current make up of the House of Commons then please, hold a general election. But be careful what you ask for as it’s possible you might end up with an even worse constellation than at present, or even one which would overturn the whole vote.  Which in my view would be a big mistake and would generate even more anger and bitterness. 

4. Above all we should respect the other side of the  debate. I understand and respect the leave case: leavers are not "stupid or racist" but nor are remainers "rootless elites". There are good points on both sides: both sides want what’s best for the country.   Why can’t each side give a little and recognise the pain on the other side? The idea that I either get 100% (cancel brexit or hard brexit) of my demands or nothing is very dangerous. If everyone was willing to give a little we could find a "least worst" solution. At the moment the majority of the population feel like some poor French peasant stuck in 1914 by the accidents of war in the middle of no mans land with both sides digging in deeper and deeper and sending heavier and heavier shells backwards and forwards.  Why can’t we try and heal the divide in our country and find a way to work together to find a sensible compromise around a soft Brexit?
Categories: Friends

Crime and Immorality

The Hadley Rectory - Fri, 24/05/2019 - 13:33
Dr Meg Warner seeks to find an answer to the question Does the Bible Really Say…that Sex Outside of Marriage is Wrong? by focusing on Deuteronomy 22. This post poses the question "why?"

In the previous post I discussed the four hermeneutical principles she describes as essential. They are not wrong but one-sided, designed to support this conclusion:
The combined effect of these four principles (there are others, but these will do for our purposes) is that it is not good enough (or safe enough) to take a single biblical verse, passage or story, and to maintain that it should be understood as authoritative for the conduct of our lives today. That does not mean that we cannot, or should not, attempt to take the Scriptures as a guide for living – we certainly should do so – but our approach needs to be comprehensive, critical and cautious if we are to avoid doing violence to the text and to one another.The principles are not in fact robust enough to warrant this conclusion in its absolutist form. It is of course obvious to virtually everyone that one cannot simply take a verse, passage or story at random out of its biblical context and declare it binding on our conduct today. But this does not mean that there are no specific biblical verses that can be identified as "authoritative for the conduct of our lives today." Christ's summary of the law would seem an obvious example. 

I doubt that there are many who would disagree with the notion that "our approach needs to be comprehensive, critical and cautious" (even if they do not practise what they preach). The main problem therefore is the insinuation that her argument is only with people who rely on illegitimate proof-texting. Now I can well believe that Meg Warner has come across people whose use of Scripture was uncritical, insufficiently cautious and piecemeal proof-texting. But a Christian scholar seeking an honest answer to the question posed should arguably ignore such nonsense and engage with the arguments of those who seek their best to be comprehensive, critical and cautious.

It is not impossible that Warner has picked Deuteronomy 22 because someone used verses from this chapter as a proof-text to say that sex outside marriage is wrong. I myself do not remember having come across this before and her stated reason sounds different:
The foundation for biblical views on this subject is found in Deuteronomy 22’s collection of law (or ‘instruction’) about sexual conduct outside marriage, which sets out a series of examples of proscribed behaviour.Unfortunately she does not tell us why she thinks Deuteronomy 22 is foundational in this sense. I want to suggest that it is not. The chapter concerns property laws and family laws rather than sexual behaviour more broadly. The critical point here is that the second half of the chapter considers just penalties for sexual crimes; it does not say anything about sexual immorality which was not criminal in ancient Israel. Warner is right to stress that we need to understand the cultural background to make sense of these laws. We would need to bear in mind such factors as (a) daughters customarily given in marriage at a young age, (b) the father's responsibility for and authority over the woman until marriage, (c) the legal nature of engagement, as well as cultural considerations which also relate to biology such as (d) inequalities between men and women with regard to forced intercourse and (e) the more serious consequences of loss of virginity for women than men not least in the light of the different ways in which paternity and maternity could be established in the ancient world. All of this then relates to the custom of marriage presents given by the bridegroom and his family to the bride's family (which in the light of the complaint in Genesis 31:15 may have been held by the bride's family for the bride). The law also seems to assume the practice of polygamy as the obligation to marriage in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is not conditional on the offender being unmarried (although Exodus 22:16-17 suggests that the bride's family can veto it).

The obvious omission is prostitution. This involves illicit sexual intercourse (carrying opprobrium throughout the Bible) which carries no legal sanctions. Why? Because a prostitute is already on the margins of society and a man's relations to wider society are not fundamentally changed by intercourse with a prostitute. This means that we cannot go to the case law for a comprehensive answer to the question what constitutes sexual immorality. The law only concerns itself with certain forms of illicit sexual activity, namely those that disrupt society or profane Israel's holiness by ruining fundamental distinctions.
Categories: Friends

Does the Bible really say?

The Hadley Rectory - Thu, 23/05/2019 - 17:06
Echoing Genesis 3:1, a series of blog posts on ViaMedia.News asks "Does the Bible really say...?" and features most recently Dr Meg Warner, Biblical Scholar in Old Testament Studies and the Hebrew Bible, affiliated with both Kings College, London and the University of Exeter on Does the Bible Really Say…that Sex Outside of Marriage is Wrong?

Her "few essential principles of biblical reading and interpretation" offer a typical example of a sectarian approach to the Bible. (The nature of sectarianism is that an aspect of the truth is taken as the whole truth with consequent distortion of everything.) Here are the principles:

1.  The phrase ‘the Bible says’ is nonsensical.It is claimed that this is so because the Bible is a library offering a variety of perspectives which are not always consistent and even in contradiction with each other. The church catholic recognises diversity and development within Scripture but it also acknowledges a fundamental harmony and coherence in the Bible, as one might expect of a book whose ultimate author is God. Denying the unity of Scripture goes hand in hand with denying that Scripture is God-breathed and truthful. The phrase 'the Bible says' is not always properly used but it is not nonsensical. It is merely inconvenient for those who prefer to pick and choose which parts of Scripture to recognise as truthful.

2.  The Bible is not an ethical guide-book.It is a common place that there are many different genres within the Bible, not all of which offer clear ethical guidance. It would be reductionist to consider the Bible merely "an ethical guide book" but from this it does not follow that the Bible is not a collection of writings that as a whole offer ethical guidance among other things. 3.  Mind the GapIt is obviously necessary to carefully consider how an instruction given within the Bible would have functioned within its original historical context and how this is to be translated into our context. So, yes, "mind the gap" but this is very different from "don't enter this carriage" as if our contemporary context renders any part of Scripture irrelevant.4.  Cultural BorrowingThere is cultural borrowing in every communication. But there is subversive as well as affirmative ‘borrowing’ and there is both ‘assuming’ due to shared convictions as well as ‘assuming’ for the sake of argument. The specific marital rules within the Torah work from within a cultural context but they are given towards an ideal of marriage that is not simply borrowed or assumed.A word on the specific example. Warner observes that men and women are treated differently in Deuteronomy 22 and claims that the disparity "has to do with cultural ideas about men and women in biblical times." The ancient cultural background is indeed relevant here but so are biological realities about child-bearing. In our cultural context we take for granted that "having sex" and "having children" are two altogether separate things. Maybe this makes it difficult to appreciate that in a different cultural context the two were much more closely related. This is a serious shortcoming, given that Meg Warner thinks she has discerned what the Biblical laws were all about (protection from shame and financial loss) based on her reconstruction of the relevant background. 
In addition, Warner's atomistic approach fails to consider how Deuteronomy 22 relates to biblical teaching elsewhere on sexual union and sexual immorality and to explore whether there is a development from Old to New Testament.
Categories: Friends

Why I will be voting Lib Dem today

God Gold and Generals - Thu, 23/05/2019 - 10:42

1. In general, no party comes close to representing my Christian world view. For example I am pro life and pro helping refugees. All the major parties are pro abortion and few want to help refugees either. Therefore, as i believe not voting is wrong I have to select the one thats nearest to my view, or start my own I guess! We must vote I argue because democracy is a precious gift, which millions of people died to protect, along with freedom and liberty. 

2.  We shouldn’t fall out with anyone and especially our fellow Christians on Brexit. People who say that the Bible says we must be pro Leave or pro Remain are wrong. Both views can be supported. Jesus said "my kingdom is not of this world". So I respect strongly pro Brexit views of friends like Steve Kneale. Let’s not get polarised, like the USA where Christians seem to be more in love with the right than Christ. It’s good I think that we have Christians on both sides of Brexit 

3. Given everything, whether we like it or not, the European elections today are effectively a referendum on Brexit. Personally I am strongly pro Remain but think we should honour the vote by leaving with a soft a Brexit as possible. For example the customs union or "Norway for now". This would honour the 52/48 split and go some way to healing the bitter divides. The "winner takes all" arrogance of some extreme Brexiteers is very dangerous and could lead to more violence. What starts with milkshakes (which I deplore) can end with stabbings and shootings. :Blessed are the peacemakers". To my hard Brexit supporting friends: are you willing to make any concessions at all to the 48%? If not, what are the likely consequences for our country of your intransigent approach? 

4. Coming to the choice of whom to vote for, again nobody represents my views except possibly Labour but I cannot vote for them with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader, whom I regard as an anti Semite. If say David Miliband or Yvette Cooper was leader they would certainly get my vote. I would never vote for the Brexit Party or UKIP as they represent the very view i strongly oppose. The Tories are in complete chaos and have made a total hash of Brexit. May should have taken the 'One Nation" view and said "lets implement Brexit on a cross party basis". Instead she tacked hard to the right  - "Brexit means Brexit" - and has ended up in a dead end. The Greens are I believe the most anti Christian values eg abortion on demand and although i like their environmental views I cannot therefore vote for them.  Sadly, Change  UK are a joke, so by process of elimination and as a way of trying to stop a no deal hard Brexit I shall be voting LibDem. Though I very much dislike their crude slogan and dont agree with a second referendum, they are the nearest. 

4. May God have mercy on us as we are in such a mess as a country. The picture above is all too true. What's the most important thing we can do? It's surely to pray for our country, for our leaders, for a way out of the mess we are in, which is a consequence of our own errors. And to love and respect those who disagree with us. Here, strangely enough, a mental picture of a curry loving pastor in Oldham seems to enter my mind...
Categories: Friends

What happens when we make sure the brightest spotlight shines on us?

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Wed, 22/05/2019 - 18:00
Are we willing to use people who are better than us? Because if not, we are doomed to be the best person in the room.
Categories: Friends

Looking for the Bride

Sussex Parson - Tue, 21/05/2019 - 15:40
Just as we are used to reading Luke-Acts as one two-volume work, Peter Leithart (Revelation, International Theological Commentary, T & T Clark, 2018, vol. 1, p22), suggests that we should read John-Revelation in the same way.

John's gospel begins with Jesus the bridegroom (3:29) at a wedding but he's not the one getting married in chapter 2. The woman at the well in chapter 4 seems like she should be the bride, but they don't get married. Maybe Mary Magdalene, the woman who meets one like the gardener after the resurrection, seems like a candidate, but Jesus can't stay. It is only at the end of Revelation that the bride is actually ready.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Revelation 21vv9-10, 22-22:5 - a handout

Sussex Parson - Tue, 21/05/2019 - 07:31
Indulging once again my passion for over complicated handouts, here's a draft for Sunday:

An Extraordinary Angelic-guided Tour
Of the Blessings of God’s Coming Kingdom:
Six Things I Did Not See – And Two Great Things Not to Miss!
Revelation 21:9-10, 22-:22:5 (page 1249)

v9: The church, the bride of Christ (contrast chapter 17)

v10: The New Jerusalem

“coming down out of heaven from God” (v10)

(1) A BETTER NEW TEMPLE CITY (21vv10-27)

The city a cube (v16) like The Holy of Hollies at the heart of the temple

(a) no temple because… (v22)

(b) no need for sun or moon because… (v23)

(c) no need to shut the gates because no night (v25)

(d) nothing impure, nor shameful nor deceitful but… (v27)

(2) A BETTER NEW EDEN CITY (22vv1-5)

River of the water of life (22v1)

Tree of life (22v2f)

(e) no curse (22v3)

With God and the Lamb! (22vv3-5)

(f) no end (22v5)

Have you booked? (22vv11, 14, 17) Will you tell others?

Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Book review for Pastors: Leadershift: The 11 changes every leader must embrace, by John C. Maxwell

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 20/05/2019 - 18:17
When I see younger leaders stuck in the mud, it’s often because they haven’t learnt one of Maxwell's eleven lessons.
Categories: Friends

Notes from an evangelism discussion

God Gold and Generals - Mon, 13/05/2019 - 15:13

We recently had a Christianity Explored evangelism offsite with our trustees, staff (including Rico Tice, Craig Dyer, Ian Roberts, Stephen James, Louanne Ems) plus Glen Scrivener from Speak Life and Le Fras Strydom from Word 121. 
Here are some of my personal conclusions from our detailed discussion and assessment of the state of evangelism in the UK
All mistakes, errors, unhelpful suggestions, etc in this are my fault not the groups! And anyone in the group is free to disagree with my attempt at a summary of our discussion. 
1. "The man with the mic doesn't speak for all". Many people are far more open to biblical truth than we think 
2. There is a large audience for serious Bible based content: but it has to be delivered in a technology friendly and accessible and convenient format
3. Do we believe in our own product? We say we believe in the power of God's word but do we live like that? Why are resources allocated in such an imbalanced way with so little towards evangelism? Are we wedded to an out of date and unbiblical 'outsourced and top down' model of evangelism? How can we unleash the power of millions of ordinary Christians sharing their stories by using the Bible?  
4. The answer is not a fearful retreat from ongoing cultural changes (some of which are actually positive for Christians) but a bold mobilisation 
5. 2 Corinthians 4 is a key passage. At the root of our collective failure is a heart issue: we need to care more for our non Christian friends and love and fear the Lord more. Evangelism is a sub set of faithfulness not vice versa. 

"The man with the mic doesnt speak for the room"

At a well known UK university the CU decided to "troll" the students with controversial questions such as "Is God misogynist?". Maybe its better to use more positive questions; after all Coke doesn't advertise its product with talks on "Does Coke rot your teeth?"
At the event there was one very aggressive atheist questioner who grabbed the microphone and dominated the discussion, laying into the Christian faith. John’s gospel was shared very effectively afterwards 121 but the plenary discussions felt completely different. In fact, the other non Christian people attending were annoyed by this man hijacking the event, but it didn't feel like that at the time for the Christians. 
Lesson for us is that “The guy with the mic doesn’t speak for the room”. Many people are repulsed by aggressive atheism and it hardly represents most peoples' thinking. I would say out of 50 people I have invited to chat about the bible 121 with me not one was an avowed atheist.
In fact surveys like "Talking Jesus" show that nearly 70% of non Christians have a Christian friend they like and only 7% of people think Christians are homophobic. 

Yet, Christians feel cowed and afraid of the "person with the mic" and cases like Israel Falau reinforce this. But well known atheists like Matthew Parish defend the Christians right to free speech.  A few opponents are highly vocal but most people are far more open than we think. It is not that they have considered the Christian message and rejected it but that they are unaware of what it is. We want a megaphone to answer the guy with the mike but to shout at our opponents louder and louder is not the answer. We should engage people whether opponents (a few) or indifferent (the many) with warmth and love, rather than respond to aggression with more aggression.  

How do we react to cultural changes? One answer must be to speak personally. Authority is rejected of all types, including the church : there is a general crisis of authority, which we can see if we look at politics. But speaking as individuals (based on the Bible) we have credibility. Modern culture says that "Everybody has a story to tell"and our own individual story of Christ and the Bible can be accepted and listened to as part of that. 
An obvious approach is “I couldn’t have got through x without Jesus”. 'X" can be anything — in my case cancer. The Lord though and not us must be the hero of the story. Our testimony should be about how Christ helped us and his character and nature, not ourselves (which is a danger). This is a much more interesting narrative to the non Christian than "how I became a Christian' in which I am the hero of the story.  
Individuality and accessibility is a key factor. Audio dominates; Joe Rogan has for example 30x the audience for podcasts as he does for YouTube. Under 40s want information on their own terms and their own time: they will "binge listen". How does this fit with the traditional church methods of communication? 
At the same time, people also want to unplug from their  devices and find community. When people buy a car for example they do all the research online but then always want human contact at the end. The goal is to get people to come to and join a church community but we need to reach them in the first place. Why should we expect them to come to us? We should go to them — the parable of the sower. 
Heavy Duty Biblical Content
Also surprising is that people are willing to listen to some very heavy duty content about the Bible. Jordan Peterson, who is not a Christian but has a huge following,  is an interesting case study. While we dont need to agree with everything he says, and we dont want to position the church as "right wing", it's nonetheless interesting that he has made people fascinated by the Bible, creating a whole new trend. His lectures are 2-3 hours long and they have millions of listeners and viewers.
Peterson says that West is lost as the 'younger son' in the Prodigal Son story, living in the pig sty and turning our back on Judaeo Christian culture. Peterson's answer is really to leave the pig sty, reject nihilism and hedonism and swing to morality, to clean up your life.  “I will become like one of your hired men”. He wants us to move towards the older brother's position.  There is a whole movement on the web against postmodernism. People like Sam Harris (who is an atheist), Ben Shapiro and  Dave Rubin and many others easily attract 1 million views per blog. 
We might say good for them. But, Christians must be neither right or left but above. We see that the left is perhaps the younger brother and the right is the older. As the Father (God) seems to be absent we are left with an ugly political battle between the two brothers. 
The Christian's role is not to support the right in preaching morality (or the left in preaching community) but to try and represent the Father's view.  Expressive individualism gets us nowhere, as the culture is falling apart.  People like Jordan Peterson preach morality as a way out, but the truth is we can’t even for a short period reach that moral standard. After trying 'moral reformation' for 18 months people give up. 
So we can learn from Peterson's appeal without following him. For example, the phrase "Christophobia" is a dangerous one.  We hate being called (say) “homophobic” so we shouldn't  use a similar label for ourselves. We certainly shouldn’t pray for a resurgent right. 
Another example of cultural openness to the Bible is John Barton who is a retired Oxford theology professor who has written a recent best selling book on the bible and its relationship to religion. While he is liberal and denies both inspiration and infallibility, nonetheless the book has a wealth of interesting information about the bible and has attracted a large readership. You can read my review here
There is a vacuum where people are looking for something  Another example of interest in the bible and its influence on the West is Vishal Mangalwadi's book "The Book that shaped your world". Tom Holland the influential British historian has a book coming out soon on the cultural impact of the Christian faith on our culture
None of these are the gospel per se but they are "entry ramps" to it. They get people interested in the Biblical/gospel content and its message for todays culture. 

So the culture is restlessly searching for something and many people are realising that we are driving into a cul de sac of nihilism. There is a unique opportunity to preach Christ. So why aren't our churches full? 

Various reasons: one is because people under 40 are not interested in traditional means of communicating and are reluctant to enter a church, let alone listen to a traditional sermon. They want dense, long form and spoken material, but in a way that they can consume at their convenience at a time and a place they want, 121.

TV has fooled us into thinking we are dumber than we really are. Yet commuters and long haul lorry drivers are subscribing to degree level material 

Our young people are being preached at and discipled — but not by us. 

Our evangelism is too light weight. People are looking for thoughtful material and they are given a 5 minute light evangelistic talk
We don’t believe in our own 'product' but lead with the bait ("beer and meat oh and yes there's a 5 minute talk")

We are not training ministers well in how to communicate with non Christians in general and especially how to do that with those under 40: we tend to rely on very traditional methods in traditional settings. Many people are open to biblical truth, but the communication model used to convey that has to be modern and accessible. 

Peterson takes the Bible very seriously as something that speaks to our culture today and speaks to many people of any background. We evangelicals tend to preach to Christians and focus on fine tuning their discipleship. We can tend to treat the non Christian as an idiot. We underestimate their intelligence and interest and  overestimate their biblical knowledge 

We need to unleash the bible and ensure that we treat the bible as about the whole of life. 

Do we believe in our own product? 
Do we evangelicals really  believe in our own product? (the Bible). We say we do but do we actually use it day to day in our interaction with friends?  

As we go round to conservative evangelical churches and ask 

“Do you believe in the power of Gods word” 

“Do you use the Bible?”
It's not clear we do in evangelism: or if we do it may need a rethink. We say in theory we do believe in the power of God's word, but we don’t tend to connect that with the people round us. 

Is evangelism really a priority in our churches? We say it is but actions speak louder than words. Events (if they happen) tend to be being run centrally by professionals and the pressure is on the church members to invite people. Is that a biblical model? Isn't it rather about helping each and every Christian to have the courage and confidence to share the gospel  themselves? We can relate to our friends in a way that our pastor cannot.The pastor is no longer the centre forward "banging in" the evangelistic goals while the congregation applaud from the stands but the coach equipping and training the congregation who should be "on the pitch”.  
This is not about stopping preaching. We are all for better and more preaching. Rather it's about getting non Christians interested in the Bible in the first place so that they are willing to end up in a church listening to good biblical sermons. 

We can have an institutionalised top down mindset. Women tend to be very good at this “bottom up chatting about stuff” evangelism. How do we enable and train women to be evangelists? Men often don’t know how to do this face to face "gospel chatting". Maybe we men should be humbler and more teachable by women?!?  

The goal is that everyone is equipped to share their faith 121, that people feel "I can have that conversation."

Most theological students want to be a pastor but very few an evangelist. Result is a complete mis allocation of resources. Imagine the evangelical church was a business with nobody in sales and everyone in customer service. It would be bankrupt pretty quickly. 
We need to support and encourage each other in sharing, not beat each other up. Making people feel guilty is not the answer. A focus on "How rather than why" can be a helpful approach, as is showing encouraging testimonies from ordinary Christians of how evangelism can work. 

Responding to the culture

We are afraid and cowed into silence
The constant secular hammering on Christians on LGBT and other issues has led to defeatism — "people are not really interested". But thats not true. 
We have to be willing to  "Go outside the city walls carrying our cross"-  to be non respectable, to be radical, to take some risks, to be willing to be laughed at. We are no longer part of the establishment - but nor was the early church.  
Possible (wrong) options include 
  • Rightwing war on the culture (culture wars*)
  • Retreat from the culture (Benedict option)
  • Reconcile with the culture (liberalism) 

Each of those is defeatist but in a in different way. 

What we need rather is resilience and to recognise that the cultural shifts as well as issues bring many opportunities. 
We should take Marshal Foch's excellent dictum "My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent, I attack"
What we need is resilience within the culture, based on Gods word, on equipping and mobilising millions of individual believers to have confidence in Gods word. How that word is delivered (courses, talks, 121, podcasts, street evangelism ) is a secondary issue and there's room for all sorts of approaches. Job of para church organisations like us is to support and encourage the local church. 
Imagine a dam with a lake. A small group of people live happily on the lake whilst the rest of the country is desert. We need to "release the dam" which is constraining the transformational power of Gods word (the water) just to the Christians and release the water which is dammed up into the surrounding desert to bring life. 
The Bible and the heart

Rico was recently with a large well known evangelical organisation  talking about 5 key features they saw as essential in evangelism:- 
  1. Bible teaching evangelists 
  2. Prayerful Evangelists. 
  3. Accountable evangelists. 
  4. Committed evangelists 
  5. Inspirational evangelists 

Surprisingly, they saw the biggest issue that needs addressing in what they do as 1! And within that they felt that the major issue is the holiness of God. 
Key bible passage on evangelism is 2 Corinthians 4

4 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The heart of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord. We are weak and feeble and have this treasures in jars of clay, but there is divine power available through Gods word. 
At the root of our ineffectiveness is a lack of love for the lost and a lack of love for Christ. 
The answer to our fear is more fear: the Fear of the Lord is key.  As the hymn goes "Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear;

Evangelism is a sub set of faithfulness not vice versa. 

If we really fear the Lord that’s enough to help you live a consistent Christian life. If we do that we can't but naturally share our faith. 

*By culture wars I dont mean defending the Christian view on various ethical issues such as abortion (where we may make common cause with the right) or refugees (where we may make common cause with the left). Rather, I mean as we see in the USA hitching the evangelical church to an explicitly right wing political agenda. 
Categories: Friends

Psalm 23 - a handout

Sussex Parson - Sun, 12/05/2019 - 13:00

PSALM 23 (page 555)

Where do you place your confidence?

Who or what do you depend on / follow?


(1) The LORD is my good shepherd who takes care of his sheep even when they walk through the darkest valleys (vv1-4)

I shall lack nothing I really need (v1)

“I shall not fear” (v4)

“You are with me… and comfort me” (v4)

(2) The LORD is my generous host who shares his plenty with his people in the presence of their enemies (vv5-6)

You welcome and honour me and lavish me with abundant blessings (v5)

“I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for length of days” (v6)Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

Reading Richard Rohr 6

The Hadley Rectory - Sat, 11/05/2019 - 14:50
Reading Richard Rohr’s Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (London: SPCK, 2016; originally published in 2008, based talks given in 1998) and reviewing my response. (PrefaceIntroductionChapter OneChapter Two, Chapter Three).

Chapter Four, "the boxing ring", again pits law and grace against each other. Rohr stresses that it is necessary to have the match and that it is crucial that grace wins - as it does. The challenge is big because morality is "a common counterfeit for religion" and "the idolatry of law" seems an ever present temptation.

Rohr expresses amazement about how "the three classic divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures (Law, Prophets, Wisdom) also parallel the normal development of spiritual consciousness and even human growth" as follows:

Law Prophets Wisdom order criticism integration thesis antithesis synthesis
"Now if you think that is rebellious talk, it probably means you have not studied much of the second section of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophets or the birth of criticism."

Now, I don't think it "rebellious talk" - I think it is ridiculous. I can understand that Walter Brueggemann whose Theology of the Old Testament worked with the categories of testimony and counter-testimony would want to promote the picture of development of spiritual consciousness presented here I still find it odd that he would endorse Things Hidden (even if his endorsement makes no reference to Rohr's credibility as a reader of Scripture): "Things Hidden is an invitation of gospel proportion to move on into the life God intends, a life of joy and obedience." Maybe it is but this chapter is driving me to the edge of what I can bear as a biblical scholar.

Where do biblical prophets challenge "the idolatry of law" or an over-emphasis on morality? Where do we get a picture of the people of God being caught up or stuck in the "container" (Law/Torah)? It is maybe not surprising that Rohr does not discuss a single passage. Nor is it surprising that Rohr's list of wisdom books fails to mention Proverbs which presumably does not fit into the category of "non-dualistic thinking."

What about the New Testament? If you were looking for a snappy summary of Paul's letters to the Romans and the Galatians, Rohr offers this line from the Dalai Lama: "You must learn the meaning of the law very well, so you will know how to disobey it properly." I am not convinced this sits easily with, say, Rom 2:17-27 where Paul elaborates on the problem with relying on the law.

Rohr is on more secure grounds when he says that Paul teaches us that "laws can only give us information, and even helpful information, but they cannot gives us transformation." Maybe it is because I grew up in a Lutheran church but this comes across to me as a common place rather than as the much neglected insight Rohr claims it to be. Rohr's Paul is very Lutheran: "Give them the law until it frustrates them to hell!"

Rohr's experience is that "instead of tackling that frustration and moving people toward union with God, what we have by and large done is trivialize the law into small issues that we could obey by willpower, determination and a certain kind of reasonableness, still trying to find salvation through the law." I can detect a faint echo of this in my context but most ideas of "being good" which I come across seem to have only the most tenuous relationship to biblical law or church teaching. 

I am left wondering whether it is worth persisting with the book. Rohr offer kernels of theological as well as psychological truths, e.g. in the observation that "our unconverted and natural egocentricity ("sin") uses religion for the purposes of gaining self-respect." But none of these are new to me and when it comes to the Bible he is untrustworthy, a charlatan who pretends to insight which he does not have and, whether deliberately or not, seems to shield himself against criticism by casting aspersions on anyone who might ask for hard facts, proper analysis or logical coherence as if scholarly exegesis is "law" to the "grace" of eisegesis flowing from "inner experience".

Categories: Friends

"Only a suffering God can help us' Part 2 Response to Q and A.

God Gold and Generals - Sat, 11/05/2019 - 11:58

I got lots of reactions and questions from my previous post which you can read here

Several people pointed out there's a lot more to be said about suffering. Thats right, this is a very partial response from my perspective (having incurable cancer).

Others wondered if ultimately the bible gives a complete answer to suffering and that the way to get through it is, even whilst not fully understanding why it happens, to learn to trust God in suffering. I think thats right. God doesn't give us ultimately complete theological answers he comes himself in the form of a suffering servant for "only a suffering God can help us".

Most of all in suffering we need the presence of the Lord Jesus. If you aren't a Christian you can also know that if you want - thats his open invitation to all, to come to the master physician and be comforted.

I am acutely conscious of not wanting to give glib or unhelpful answers. Its so easy to get it wrong - look at Job's comforters who did well until they started talking.

One particular friend came back with lots of follow up questions and has graciously allowed me (i have removed any personal details) to post our correspondence, I hope you find it helpful

Q: Jeremy thank you for sharing about your cancer. I have a morbid fear of getting it, due to family members having it. How do you react when, after prayer, you are not healed? I am looking into healing prayer at the moment

A: A few thoughts 1. Fear. This is the think I experience more than any other and it’s a natural human reaction to danger and the loss of control. However it’s comforting to know that the most common command in the Bible in general and from Jesus to his disciples specifically is “don’t be afraid”. God knows our human weakness and frailties and sympathises with us. His remedy for fear is more fear: the fear of the Lord. Look for example at the story of Jesus in the storm. God appears to be asleep and the disciples are terrified. He wakes up and stills the storm and they are even more terrified because they begin to realise who they have in their boat. Same for us: if Jesus is in our boat though the storms of life will still make us afraid (for we are human beings) the presence of God and the fear of the Lord drives out our fear. Also just because something is a big fear doesn’t mean that God will give it to us. He’s a loving Heavenly Father. He cares for his children. And if he does (and don’t forget sometimes parents have to inflict pain on their children for their own good eg vaccinations) then he will give us the grace to deal with it. Why don’t you have that grace now you might think? Because God doesn’t give us hypothetical grace for imaginary situations but real grace for the situation we find ourselves in. Take your fear to God, tell him about it and ask for his presence and “the peace that passes all understanding”. How will we most commonly experience his peace and his presence? Through his word and in cases like this I suggest in particular through the Psalms. Next healing prayer. Yes I certainly do pray to be healed and to live. And although I am not healed - my tumours are the same size and they were four years ago - nor am I dead! Or even I can say with great gratitude that I am not in a worse position than I was. So God has answered my prayer: not exactly as I hoped he would but in amazing way. So prayer for healing, absolutely God the Bible tells us can do anything he likes. But we cannot expect to be healed. God may heal us wholly or in part but he may not. He is God and we are not. We cannot possibly treat God as some kind of cosmic slot machine into which we pop our prayers and out of which comes what we want. God has much bigger purposes than we can possibly imagine. Ultimately our picture of God is much too small. What he wants us to learn is in every aspect of life to trust him. What he promises is that if we are his child he will be with us. “Yes through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death you are with me your rod and staff they comfort me still”. God doesn’t promise to build a bypass round that dark valley - through which sooner or later we all must pass like it it not. What he promises though is his mighty Father presence to comfort us and guide us every day of our life. “I will never leave you or forsake you” May you know the presence and comfort of the Lord God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth and our Eternal Father

Q: Hello Jeremy I am reading some books about fear from a christian perspective. Some fears are attacks from Demons. The whole area of healing is a problem for evangelical Christianity. Many people are perplexed with the lack of healing after many prayers and fastings. Life is full of problems for us as humans, and I wouldn't ask the Lord to remove me from them. But I would like to feel God in the problems (tells a personal anecdote which i remove) and was asking the Lord for peace, but none came. I got depressed and wanted to die. I got out to a river and was shouting to God asking "Where are you when I need you." Again nothing. This made me look into myself to see if I was at fault. I read in Psalm 103 yesterday that the Lord heals all of our diseases . I spent time asking Him why myself and others are not healed. I am waiting for a reply.

A: Thanks brother first of all we can’t take Bible verses out of context, we have to look at the whole bible. The devil is an expert at wrenching verses from the Bible (specifically Psalms) out of the context - see what he does with Psalm 91 when he tempts Jesus. Psalm 103 will be fulfilled in eternity, looks forward to Jesus and may also be fulfilled today. God can heal now and he often does but we cannot demand that he always does. He is God and we are not. Logically then if that was always true that all our diseases would be healed then no Christian would ever die. But the Bible tells us that we all must die for “it is appointed for man once to die and after that the judgement.” Everybody in the bible died except Enoch and Elijah. Eventually Jesus will takes us all up and all our sins will be forgiven and all our diseases healed. But not 100% yet. Otherwise we wouldn’t need faith, the Christian life would be like a slot machine put in request get healing. This is one of the many errors of the prosperity gospel. But “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Faith is believing in things that we dont see. If we were automatically healed every time we asked, automatically, that wouldn't be faith.

John Piper says “even our diseases and our calamities are not defeats. That is what Paul in Romans 8 is saying. In them all we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. They work good for us now in all the ways that count. And they prepare a weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I don’t think demons normally cause fears or disease either. On your feelings we must rely on the word of God not our feelings. Our feelings come and go, sometimes we feel near God, other times not. This is part of being human. Read Psalm 22 for example and other Psalms wrestling with the same feelings. The Psalmist feels alone and forsaken and what does he do? He meditates on the truth of God’s character, his power, his love for us, his faithfulness to his word and as he does that his feelings are transformed. We have to let the truth about God transform our feelings (as far as we can).

When we feel God is far away - which we all feel sometimes - what must we do? We must like a shot look in his word, the Bible, because that’s how in the main God speaks to us and draws us to himself. That’s how he speaks to me. There are many many Psalms which deal with this feeling and it’s perfectly normal.

Look at Psalm 77 for example the psalmist feels forgotten and what does he do ?

“I will remember the works of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. I will reflect on all You have done and ponder Your mighty deeds.”

When we look to God and meditate on his word and what he has done (especially the cross and the empty tomb) then I often find his peace which passes all understanding comes flooding into my heart. Even if we don’t feel this amazing peace - for we are human and our feelings fluctuate - His mighty promises stand unchanged and indeed they will never change if we are his “look I am with you always even to the very end of the age”. God uses fear and suffering to teach us to trust him as we should

Q: I wonder how many Christians have similar thoughts to me, but for fear of sounding negative never reveal their true selves.I cannot agree with one of your comments."God uses fear and suffering to teach us to trust him as we should " I agree that scripture must be read in context. But the verse in Psalms 103 can be cross referenced in the New Testament. I appreciate your thought
A: Thanks brother yes most Christians I would guess so thank you for being so very honest! We must be honest about our feelings and not "super spiritual". I certainly have those thoughts as well.
In terms of learning from fear and suffering consider Jesus in the storm: the disciples were afraid and suffered: through that they learned more about who Jesus was. It’s not automatic but suffering can be redemptive - the cross is the great example. And yes Psalm 103 is absolutely fulfilled in the NT. Jesus by his death on the cross will cure eventually all our diseases, and when we trust in him and his death and resurrection, he has already then cured us of our biggest "disease" - our estrangement and alienation from God.
Categories: Friends


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