Sunday, December 07, 2008

Now for something different...

I think this is brilliant! Created to dispel the Dan Brown-esque myths that overshadow too many UK opinions about Jesus and the historicity of the birth narratives, I think it does a great job. Spread the word.

That's Christmas! from andy pearce on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Remember, Remember...

They say an elephant never forgets, and I've not got much evidence to prove them wrong, but one thing I do know is that it is
very easy for a Christian to forget.

I was chatting with some mates over lunch last Sunday. They were girly types, let me say by that I mean they were actually girls, and being girls some of them kept 'memory boxes', aka shoeboxes (or in one case a suitcase!) full of bits and pieces from their life to date. Now I'm not against tucking away the odd ticket or wedding programme to remind me of good times, but these guys had taken that to the extreme: school shoes, drawings, journals, you name it they stored it in their attic. The difference between them was that one of them had been advised by an older friend to get rid of all that stuff on the basis that 'its all gonna burn', whereas the other one was all for keeping items that pointed her back to moments of knowing God's goodness.

As part of our training on the Associate Scheme we've been reading through the Old Testament, and it's been pretty striking how regularly Israel is called upon to 'remember', or worse still are rebuked for 'forgetting'. The big event that they often seem to forget is how God rescued them from Egypt, an event that completely defines them as a people. But more than that, it seems the idea of remembering God's work in their lives is engrained into the very being of their world. Joshua is told to build a pile of stones to remind Israel of God's provision in crossing a river, and even the very naming of places and people seems to promote a constant looking back to God's activity in their history.

Now, I see that as you move forward to the NT you see the apostles constantly drawing us back to the cross of Jesus as the defining moment in history where God rescued his people. But my question is whether we're still pretty poor at recalling God's 'everyday' grace in our lives, and not just last week's blessings but that moment 20 years ago too.

To caveat all that, I guess we wanna be protective against the danger of not spotlighting the ultimate moment where we were united to Christ as we repented and believed. And we wanna have a good biblical theology that understands how God blesses his people, i.e. we don't wanna promote a drift into the stuff of the prosperity gospel.

But if we truly believe 'it's all by grace', then wouldn't we be able to look back at our lives and be able to say exactly
that, rather than in a general vague sense? To look back on answered prayers, particular moments when it was hard to trust God but we kept on anyway, times where rejoicing in suffering was a very real experience, the surprising joy of unexpected provision, God's sovereign hand in bringing together certain events, incidents where we could really testify to the beauty of the church working to care for its members.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Truth Claims are banned???

Halfway through the KCLMS CU's week of events, and we're facing upto having been told by college authorities to change the name of our lunchtime talks on all publicity, so that they
no longer make truth claims.

It strikes us all as a little odd that a truth claim can be so threatening that a univeristy society made up of around forty students in a college full of thousands is required to turn objective statements to fence-sitting questions.

It was nearly two years ago now, but this letter from Richard Cunningham, Director of UCCF, to the Guardian newspaper, is well worth a read on the importance of freedom of speech meaning exactly that, whether your chosen belief is a subjective haphazard approach to the world or whether you have an actual opinion. All the more stunning given we're dealing with the context of the university.

Monday, November 10, 2008


A not even vaguely original idea from Bish and Ed, but still a good way of learning to count my blessings and give Him due praise! Seven blessings from the last seven days.

1. Dialogue Suppers: Really good times with Marcus, Nat, Matt & Josh. Stereotypes broken down. Christians getting together to put on events. Fajitas. Being forced to think.
2. Housetime: Time with the boys. And a few hours spent painting a seven metre long banner, all in the name of...
3. ...Marriage: Joel got down on one knee to ask Naomi to marry him. She said yes! And our 'Will you marry me?' banner got unfurled along the cliffs of the Kent coast. A pleasure to see mates meet and plan to marry.
4. Romans 3.21-26: Time to sit down with the guys at RML and see Jesus' cross in all its glory - the perfect solution to a massive problem. God Propitiated. I'm Redeemed and Justified.
5. Being at Home: Good to get the train up to Wirral, chill out and see the folks and be together, as well as missed merciless banter with JR and Conners.
6. Real Ale and a good chat: Talking through the challenges and opportunites of being a Christian in the workplace over a sweet pint with Phil. Is there a better way to end a busy day?
7. The Essential Mix: the clue was in the name. Lots of Bond-related banter, tourist-manipulating missions, and a brilliant time with Gwilym Davies getting us to think about what it means for us to be God's new creation people.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wise Thoughts for a Busy Week...

'The great cheat by means of which the devil and antichrist delude the world, is to make them continue in the form of any duty, the form of preaching, or hearing, or of praying. These are they that have 'a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof; from such turn away' (2 Tim 3.5).'

John Bunyan, Praying in the Spirit

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bless God?!

A few weeks ago my housemate built me a bed from scratch. It’s amazing - a bed 5 ft off the ground, with sliding shirt hangers underneath, and all from a few blocks of wood and some hardboard from a skip. I was seriously chuffed and the week after he made it I couldn’t stop banging on about it.

So there you go - it’s not that I’m not a praising kind of person. It might not be Tottenham that does it for me, but give me a new bed or three points to the Hammers and I’ll be waxing lyrical. But the challenge of Sunday's sermon on Ephesians 1.1-10 was whether or not we ‘bless God’. Hmm. Do I? I’d even estimate 90% of the time I sing praise songs in church I’m not actually mindfully thankful.

I was chatting the other night with a friend and we quickly reached the conclusion we’re both really unthankful to God when it comes to day-to-day life. So today I’ve been trying to think about my day with the reality-specs on, knowing that God has given me every good thing in it and therefore being thankful to God for the great time with a friend, the pleasure of the Mars Bar milkshake, a productive morning at work. The ‘what are you thankful to God for?’ question is one we’ll definitely start asking each other. But Sachy showed us Ephesians 1 is about more than just that; Paul grounds his praises to God with the reasoning that he ‘has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing’. And then it’s bam-bam-bam.

On Monday morning I thought about some of the particular blessings Paul says God has lavished upon us… all of them are blessings – they’re things that God has given to us because we are included in Jesus, because we’re Christians. We talk about ‘not deserving them’, but I realized how easily I pass over the reality of that in my emotions. The whole shebang of Paul’s super-sentence (1v3-14) is the heart and soul of being a Christian. And it’s all stuff that I don’t and can’t have any natural claim on – being chosen, being made God’s child, forgiveness of sin… it’s all complete unmerited gift. And so I found the refrain in v6 and v14 a really great way to anchor my prayers and prompt me to being glad – ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’. To complement that I’ve found a few songs all about praising God to ‘sing’ along to on the old mp3 player as I walk to work, keeping in mind God’s gracious inclusion of me in his plan.

This has started to help me bridge the gap between knowing logically it’s a good thing to be ‘in Christ’, or articulating the goodness of the gospel when I’m chatting to someone who’s not a believer, and then actually knowing these blessings and realizing the goodness of being included in this plan so that I’m actively praising God. Its gonna take lots of adjusting my eyes to the Ephesians 1 planetarium and its gonna take questions from my Christian mates, but I’m praying that my thankfulness for all that I have in Jesus will remain long after the novelty of a new bed has faded.

The original post from In the Shadow of the Gherkin can be found here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus are Falling Off...

A friend pointed me in the direction of this. It's an article announcing the launch of a new bus-advertising campaign from the British Humanist Association, inspired by an article by online Guardian writer Ariane Sherine. Its all in response to a campaign featuring Bible verses on London buses and underground over the last few months, followed by Alpha's bus campaign 'If you could ask God one question'.

Sherine's point is that there needs to be a counter-view expressed, so that those 'vulnerable' to religious advertisting are not fooled into believing there is a God, and specifically for her a God who is angry and has power to cast into a Hell.

The comments left in response to the article are worth a read. Lots of people unhappy with being told there is a judgment. Lots of people complaining God's validity is questioned by him not having recently put in an appearance. Yet also lots of people unhappy with 'atheist proselytizing' . Overall not much concern with whether or not the BHA have much ground for their claim, or likewise the reliability of the truth of the original campaign calling for faith in Jesus.
Ironically the advert uses the word 'probably' (amusingly it's the way to avoid being sued, a la Carlsberg). But surely if anything 'probably' should cause you to realise you can't in fact 'stop worrying and enjoy your life' until you work out whether or not you'd put your money, make that your life, on the strength of that probably. It just smacks of carefree-I-don't-care-if-I-sit-on-the-fence middleclass culture - that's the world we live in at the moment.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Happy Where You Are...

Been spending some time munching through Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment at the moment, and thoroughly enjoying it. Burroughs was a Puritan knocking about during the first half of the seventeenth century and ended up preaching not too far down the road from me in Stepney.

'It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world'.

Being content has connotations of being happy with second-best, but that's not what Burroughs is on about. Contentment is bound up with knowing God is in control, and so one can be contented 'if he has but bread and water'. Yet at the same time there is a sense in which we are to be dissatisfied in the world; 'that is, those things that will satisfy the world, will not satisfy him.'

That's a brilliant observation I reckon: the two sides of contentment, finding a satisfaction in any situation, yet not being satisfied with it alone, for only God will satisfy. Another helpful thing Burroughs points out is that Christian contentment 'is not opposed to all lawful seeking for help in different circumstances, not to endeavouring simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means'. That is, in situations of suffering it is not ungodly to ask God to deliver us from them and to keep in mind that he may well do that. He says that's what marks true Christian contentment out from glib stupidity.

I reckon that's something of what Paul is talking about in Philippians - being content in every situation, yet still a striving forward, a longing for the inheritance of God.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Importance of Listening...

The lovely people in our evening meeting have kicked off a blog to encourage us to be thinking about applying God's word long-term. We were talking today about the danger of not listening well as we hear God's word preached and its been brilliant to be forced to actually confront the deafness that so quickly springs up within us. It seems that a sermon can be so transient - you hear it on a Sunday, I pray it through on a Monday, but then... where does the word go?

Encountering God can't be a momentary thing - it must change, transform, hit... That's what 'applying the word' is all about of course, but I don't really think about application like that. What has God been teaching me over the last few weeks? How has he changed me recently? Not just did I understand that passage on Sunday, or even be wowed by the God in it, but whether I am encountering God. Long-term transformation. How has reading Romans changed me over the last 3 weeks? As I've seen Jesus call me to sit at his feet in Luke and challenge my view of discipleship, have I responded?

Hearing that ends in doing. It's not rocket-science, but I find it easy to forget.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I felt I was being picked on and bullied on a daily basis and that there was no respect whatsoever for my religious beliefs.

With all the column inches and TV coverage given to the abortion debate in the Commons this week, this nearly slipped me by.

Lillian Ladele, 47, a marriage registrar for Islington Council, was threatened with the sack after refusing to preside over gay marriages on the grounds of her Christian faith.

"I am a Christian and I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations.

"A civil partnership is marriage in all but name. Regardless of my feelings for the participants, I feel unable to directly facilitate the formation of a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God's law.

"My beliefs do not mean I wish people who are homosexual to receive detrimental treatment. My God does not love anyone any less because of their sexual orientation.

"But the Bible explains that sin cannot be ignored, and it creates a problem for any Christian if they are expected to do or to condone something that they see as sinful.

"I cannot reconcile my faith with taking an active part enabling same sex unions to be formed as I believe this is contrary to God's instruction that sexual relations belong exclusively between a man and a woman within marriage."

"The council knows that if I am required to choose between my conscience and their desire that all registrars must undertake civil partnership duties, then I will have to honour my faith and face unemployment."

The Daily Mail gives it some treatment
here. It seems to me that this could be seen as an example of my last post; no doubt there have been much accusations thrown at Ms Ladele of gay-bashing, despite her seeming to explain her position clearly.

But more than that, it's surely the denial of a Christian's right to hold beliefs that actually affect their life. Doctors not being able to refuse to take abortions and nurses forced to practice euthanasia are two other examples that have probably come up or will come up. But aside from the debate about whether you can hold a job in which your beliefs greatly affect your capacity to complete the job, this does seem to highlight the de-Christianizing of our society, and specifically what it will look like for a Christian involved in that society.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Living an Unwritten Doctrinal Basis...

Some formed up thought from chatting with a friend the other day about how we talk about what we do as Christians. We were chatting to his unbelieving mates and their big questions about God were stuff like 'Does God hate it when you swear?' and 'If I say f*#@ will God condemn me?'

Now in my head I'm thinking well, actually we're all screwed because we've all rejected God - that's the heartbeat of the second half of Romans 1, right? But how do I convey that to someone who's view of a Christian is made up of a list of things you can't do. If my student housemates are munching hash cakes, why shouldn't I have a slice? If I do, does it show I'm free. If I don't, does it reinforce the rule-based definition of what a Christian is in their heads?

We reckoned that a really important way to helpfully portray the Christian life is by encouraging people to see that our 'faith' is not a merely spiritual-realm-thing but actually a physical thing - it affects your day-to-day actions. That seems to be what was going on in 1 Corinthians, with the Christians reckoning that it was the spiritual that mattered, therefore they could do what they like with their bodies (including major incest for one).

But Paul's response was to remind them their bodies were the Lord's. It was my experience that it's very easy to explain to your mate on the football social that the reason you don't want to get hammered at the bar is "because you're a Christian", but really that contains no sense of what Christianity is. You may as well say you're not getting wasted because you're a Muslim, or because you're against the abuse of underpaid Chinese alcopop bottlers... or something.

But actually we're in relationship with the living God - we know our King Jesus, and we want to live for him both in thankfulness and to please Him. Surely, that is what we want to convey, and before we convey anything, what we want to be thinking as we live each day.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Free Song...

Click here to download for free I Have A Shelter, a great song from the the lovely people at Sovereign Grace Music. It's taken from their new album Come Weary Saints, which I can totally recommend. I particularly love the album because...

1. It's BIG on God's sovereignty.
2. It portrays the Christian life as it really is; cross-shaped.
3. There are some brilliant songs on there.

Which, you have to say, are a cracking combination, with the first two being wonderful things to write brilliant music about.

I have a shelter in the storm
When troubles pour upon me
Though fears are rising like a flood
My soul can rest securely
O Jesus, I will hide in You
My place of peace and solace
No trial is deeper than Your love
That comforts all my sorrows

I have a shelter in the storm
When all my sins accuse me
Though justice charges me with guilt
Your grace will not refuse me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
Who bore my condemnation
I find my refuge in Your wounds
For there I find salvation

I have a shelter in the storm
When constant winds would break me
For in my weakness, I have learned
Your strength will not forsake me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
The One who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven

© 2008 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (ASCAP)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP) (Admin. By Integrity’s Hosanna! Music) Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)(Admin. By Integrity’s Praise! Music)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Ever feel guilty writing a prayer letter?

I first started sending an email round to friends with a bit of news and some prayer points when I did six months of my gap year in South Africa with SU. A lot of the people recieving it were families who'd hired me to cook dinner parties for them, allowing me to raise a bit of cash to fund my trip. Once I hit Durham I'd send an email once a term or so, with a bit of info about what I was upto, some encouragements from CU and church, and prayer points, both general and specific, for the term ahead. A remotely funny anecdote never went down badly either.

Now that I've passed from student to that well-worn category of 'full-time paid [but yet not actually paid] Christian ministry', I'm reliant on a base of supporters to fund my living costs. Obviously it makes sense and follows biblical principle that those supporters don't just write me a cheque now and again, but are actually involved in what I'm doing. One of the best and most precious ways of that partnership being fleshed out is in much needed prayer, and so I send out an email every couple of months with detailed stuff to give thanks for, and points for prayer. This also goes to a group of mates who offered to pray for me this year. All well and good so far.

However, nearly a year after graudating, out of all the friends who send me prayer letters/updates all but one are involved in some sort of Christian training scheme/church position. Obviously it's great to be praying for people in those kind of positions, but at the same time it could indicate a potentially unhealthy focus on what 'Christian ministry' is. I was chatting with my friend James about this a few weeks back. From nine-to-five he's dealing with invoices for a rail-delivery company, but he keeps friends far flung updated with a little email now and again containing prayer and praise points.

There's a number of caveats to bring to the table. Maybe it's just I'm not that great at keeping in contact with friends. Maybe our culture is such that people are more likely to have one or two pals who they keep in touch with for prayer. I suppose in reality you are going to be praying for those you are close to, so its clearly unrealistic to expect everyone to be exchanging prayer news with everyone. Also those who are still part of the same church should be in a position where they can pray for each other regularly, and I guess there's a good argument for the local church being the place where people recieve most prayer support. And we wouldn't ever want to say you can only pray for people whom you are 'up-to-date-with'.

All that said, this doesn't remove the fact that it seems prayer letters are the norm for church workers, whilst those involved in full-time Christian ministry at the office, in the classroom, at home, etc, are less likely to send them, or are less likely to be encouraged to send them. I'm pretty sure it's symptomatic of an unbalanced focus on church positions in some sense - i.e. if you're going-for-it-keen then you'll work for a church and therefore are entitled to send out prayer letters. I guess it could also indicate a prayerlessness within Christian friendships? I've certainly been convicted, as I've been thinking, about how badly I care for friends far flung. We're all busy people but an unwillingness to keep in touch and to pray in an informed way for each other can't simply be something that being busy is allowed to create.

So what to do? Encourage a few mates in different walks of life to send round a monthly email updating each other on the ministry they are involved in? I was reading in From Cambridge to the World (incidentally a brilliantly written and non-triumphalist book detailing the work of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union) how back in the day graduated CU members would send round an annual letter reporting what they were up to and how they could pray for each other. I have a mate who, in this vein, set-up a password-protected blog for his mates so they could regularly load up their prayer points.


Friday, May 02, 2008

This Made Me Laugh...

Book plugs are always one of the tough gigs to do in the student world, at CU, church, conferences, etc.
Don't want to trivialise the book; do want to make the book sound attractive without being too geeky; don't want it to sound like the book-plug they heard last week; do want to look like I'm not just reading out the blurb on the back.
This video, one of the highlights from the student stream at New Word Alive, takes up the challenge with hilarious results.

HT: Bish

Friday, April 18, 2008

Who's your Daddy?

Reading Ephesians 5 with Steve on Wednesday. I often find myself cruising through these back-end sections of Paul's epistles as if they're some after thought sticky-taped on. No doubt I'm governed by some misguided approach where I tell myself I'm in need for some 'real theology' not just some 'do this and don't do that'.

Of course that's all rubbish - everything Paul says is completely rooted in what God has done for his people. We're called to be 'imitators of God as beloved children' (5v1). Paul's not whacking Christians over the head with a load of 'to-do' lists, rather he's getting right into the heart of the relationship between Christian theology and Christian living.

The call to imitate God is not some wishful thinking on Paul's behalf, but rather its based on the wonderful reality that we are now God's beloved children, and children imitate their parents. This pattern pops up again and again in the back end of Ephesians - reason for action is everything, and for Paul the reason is knowing who we are. In v3 our identity as 'saints' means certain stuff isn't even to be named among us. In v4 it isn't that filthiness and crude chat is bad that should stop us from doing it, but that it's 'out of place'. Again, in v7-8, 'do not associate with them; for one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light...'.

Christian ethics, that is how you live as a believer in Jesus, is always worked out and motivated by taking note of who you are. It's what fits. Of course if there's no knowledge, if there's no awareness of who we are, then we're either gonna forget and worse head elsewhere for our sense of identity, or we're gonna drift into a stuffy moralism that has lost sight of reasons and truth and thinks of Christianity as actions alone.

That's why simply remembering my identity, as a child of God, a joint of Christ's body, a member of the household of God, is such a precious and cruical thing to do each day. It rams home the importance of a book like Ephesians in stopping us in our tracks and giving us a reality check. This is reality.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Furniture demolition, cups of tea, and being church...

I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning joining a mate as he helped clean out a flat lived in by one of his distant elderly relatives. The old lady in question is suffering from dementia and had been moved out of this top-floor flat in west London to live with family up in Scotland.

As we attacked old beds with saws to make them fit down the stairs, lugged 60's design chairs down four flights, and then shifted it all into a minibus, we realised the reality is we were stripping an apartment of a lifetime's worth of collected possessions. Old hoovers and chairs and pans off to the dump, pictures and books and crockery to the charity shop; it was a pretty sad moment really.

I would hardly have said there was much there that was in anyway unnecessary - it didn't make me suddenly want to streamline my material existence (although, that wouldn't be a bad thing for me to do!). But it did ram home the realisation that at the end of the day all these bits will be left behind. Whether it's being mowed down by a bus in my mid-twenties, signing out at seventy-five, or just being carted out of my home to somewhere, where for a few years, they'll sit me in front of a TV for most of the day and feed me my meals; we will leave this stuff behind us.

Yet it wasn't just furniture being left behind. As we chatted over cups of tea made in very retro china cups there were stories. Stories of a battleaxe of a Christian lady. Stories of the many gatherings in the flat as she opened up her home in loving hospitality. Stories of a woman who loves playing her part in God's body. And as the day went on two things happened: the flat got barer and barer, but also more and more people turned up to help out. Again and again, "Hi I'm a friend from her church" was the opening line. No sermons, no singing, but definitely church in action.

Friday, March 14, 2008

This One's For Hugo...

Term's winding to a close here in London, so there's a little more time for brain consolidation and trying something new.
One of the big things exciting me at the moment is the recently launched Theology Network website, courtesy of Mike Reeves, Dan Hames, and those kind people at UCCF. It's the kind of resource that I'd have loved to have had at my fingertips when I began my degree, but the brilliant thing is it's all about theology being for all, not just those who are studying it for their degree at Uni. Theology is simply knowing God better - not something confined to turning through dusty textbooks and debating abstract concepts. There's a decent stack of articles and mp3 lectures on everything from church history to engaging with world religions.
I'm currently enjoying Reeves' fantastic series on the Trinity which seems to have snowballed since he first gave the talks a while back. The very title 'Trinity' is normally enough to put the majority of us off - but that lack of clarity and occurence regarding the subject in our Christian lives and churches is exactly what he addresses. Part 1 is ready for your digestion here. Enjoy!