Monday, 30 June 2008

'Normal' service has been resumed...

It's been tricky getting anything onto the internet for the past couple of weeks because our connection has been dodgy - I think the box got struck by lightning. But now, thanks to the heroic efforts of my colleague Rudi, it's mended. So here are two things I've added to my website:

1 Thessalonians Overview
Galatians 5v13-26

The first is an overview of 1 Thessalonians (hence the title). I love this book, and it made a big impact on me when I studied it as a student, and then as a Relay worker. It was great to revisit it, and to teach it at our Bible study meeting. One particular highlight was the use of a 'wordle' (which Ed mentioned on his blog the other day). Basically you stick a load of text (1 Thessalonians in this case) into the website, and it spits out a pretty word picture, with the size of the words corresponds to the number of times they occur. OK, I know there are issues about translations and stuff, but I thought it would be a fun way for the group to work out what 1 Thessalonians might be about - and it worked quite well. Definitely worth doing again I think.

The second is a talk from our morning service yesterday on the 'fruit of the Spirit.' In one way, it looks like I take a really long run up to talking about the fruit of the Spirit, but it's impossible to understand the fruit of the Spirit without putting it in the context of the whole letter to the Galatians. It's all about freedom. Although they were free, they were starting to add rules, which Paul hates. But the alternative, to just do what you like, is no good either. Instead, Paul wants them to see a third way - life by the Spirit. Not following rules, but following a person.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Ephesians 5v22-33

Yes, I've finally got to that part of Ephesians. The notes are online here:

Ephesians 5v22-33

I found it mildly amusing that I happened to be giving this sermon on the 100th anniversary of Women's Sunday. I think some of the feminists on Breakfast News would have my guts for garters with all my talk about submission... (Hopefully if you read the talk you'll see that I'm not an oppressive chauvinist!)

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Why It Matters...

I've just spotted this great little post by John Piper on the Desiring God Blog. This is an idea which has influenced me a lot, and I'm still trying to work out some of the implications. It's one of those ideas which you know should change everything, it just takes a while to see some of the detail. Hence a previous post where I was trying to do just that.

I thought this blog entry was a great short expression of why it's important even to think about it. Go and have a look...

Why It Matters That God Does Everything for His Own Glory

Monday, 16 June 2008


I've just added another talk to my website. It was given on Fathers' Day, so that's what it's about. It's always puzzled me why churches often celebrate Mothers' Day in a big way, but not so much Fathers' Day. As I mention in my introduction, surely Christians have a very good reason for celebrating it, as we know the best Father in the universe.

With that thought in mind, I started to pull apart what we mean when we call God 'Father.' There's a Trinitarian way of saying it (God the Father in relation to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit). But when we talk about 'Our Father,' there's a danger we can end up talking in a very general sense. So that got me onto the subject of adoption. And what a subject! I struggled to narrow it all down to a sermon, but here is the result (here are the notes at least).

Ephesians 1v3-14 - a Fathers' Day sermon on Adoption

If you're reading this and want to know more, read Knowing God by Jim Packer - there's an awesome chapter on being Sons of God in there (which I refer to in the talk).

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Total Spirituality

OK, following on from a previous post, here is the first (although these aren't in any kind of order) of many things I got out of the book Total Church.

There are a couple of things which have nagged me (by which I mean, I've felt there was something wrong, but couldn't definitely put my finger on it) as I have thought about 'spirituality' over the past few years. One is that, as evangelical Christians, we don't seem to be very good at spirituality. And so I've been encouraged lots to venture outside of my own theological tradition to 'be spiritual.' Prayers, icons, candles, whatever. I don't necessarily have a problem with learning from others, but it bothers me when I don't have a gospel-centred alternative to compare things to.

The other thing which has nagged me is the individualism that seems to be a big part of being spiritual. We tend to focus a lot on personal and private prayer and Bible study. Again, not necessarily bad things, but I think it's part of the reason why we can be very personal and private about our faith in general. So that when we get together, we're just a collection of individuals who happen to all be worshipping God in the same place. I went to a CU meeting once (I won't say where) which was mostly silence. I think we were meant to listen to God. I lasted about 30 seconds and started thinking about something else.

Chapter 9 of TC is about Spirituality, and it addresses both of these things. The authors point out that God's Word should be central to our spirituality. We don't need to just sit quietly until God pops something into our heads - he's already spoken through the Bible! Our spirituality should be marked by passionate engagement in the world and in prayer. And it will happen in the context of community.

A really helpul way the TC boys look at the role of coummunity in spirituality is to look at the Bible story emphasising first the individual, then the community. Both stories are true, but the individualistic version misses out a huge part of the picture. And they explain how this should work in practice. We should prioritise prayer together over prayer on our own. We shouldn't separate our relationship to God from our relationship to those around us, as one affects the other. And we need the constant exhortation and encouragement that comes from being together as a community.

When we make spirituality about certain practices, we set up what TC calls a 'spirituality of achievement' - you're more spiritual the more/better you do. The goal is often union with Christ. But that is upside down. Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality, but its foundation. Basically, the gospel is all we need. Paul makes a big deal about that in Colossians. It reminded me of something pretty mind-boggling that Andy Shudall said at a Relay conference. We can fall into the trap of thinking of the gospel as the door we walk through to become a Christian, which we then leave behind. But that's rubbish. The gospel is the car we drive, the petrol in the engine, the map we use to find our way... you get the idea.

Should I feel guilty that I don't find candles and chanting particularly helpful? Does that make me immature? No. And it's good and healthy to be spiritual by spending time with God's people, marvelling at the gospel together.

My boss once asked me a question which was something like, "what do you think is the key to maintaining the spiritual life?" My answer what that we maintain the spiritual life by holding tight to the gospel. We don't need to move on to other things - in fact, that will lead to disaster. What we need is to have our heart and mind opened more and more to the transforming, reconciling, humbling power of the gospel.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

More on Total Church

Thanks to Wendy who left a comment on my last post pointing me to a couple of articles in The Briefing on Total Church. I'm too tight to buy things like that, but I found it on the wonderful internet. The link below will take you to a series of emails exchanged between Steve Timmis (co-author of TC), Tony Payne (Editor of The Briefing) and Simon Flinders (an Assistant Minister in Sydney).

Talking about Total Church, part 1
Talking about Total Church, part 2
Talking about Total Church, part 3

The australians spend a lot of time on some quite specific definitions, which I have a feeling might say more about the bees in their bonnets rather than failures of Total Church. But Steve Timmis's responses are great. It's worth a read.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Total Church

Have you ever read one of those books where it's as if someone has taken lots of things you were thinking about and written the book you wanted someone to write about them? For me, Total Church is one of those books. And Steve Timmis and Tim Chester have definitely stretched my brain.

I know it's been out for a while, but I had a book token (thanks Cumbria CU!) so I invested in it. It was worth every penny (in fact, I woul dhappily have spent the full £10 on it - I should've saved the book token for something else...). I can't actually express how much I love this book! And so there will probably be a few posts on this as I try to. The book is based on a simple idea - the church should be a community centred on the gospel, with a focus on mission. Having set that out (very clearly and persuasively), the boys head off into all sorts of different aspects of church life to find out what it means. The results are seriously mind-boggling. Once we've taken it on board, it will affect how we think about church and about it's place in the world.

As I said, it came along at just the right time, when I was thinking about some of this already. But Total Church made it really clear that I have a lot more thinking to do. In a lot of ways I was quite reassured by the book, because I'm possibly not as random as I thought I was. At a certain job interview recently, I said a couple of things off-the-cuff which I later thought sounded really stupid, and were probably wrong. But, to my surprise, Tim and Steve said them too! (I won't say what they were here, but I might mention them in future posts...)

If you're a Christian you should read this book, either to encourage you or (more likely) to challenge and unsettle you. Pastors should read it, but so should the people they're pastoring - it's all about community, which will only work if the 'leaders' and the 'led' are on board. I love this book. And if you bear with me, I'll tell you some of the reasons why...

Friday, 6 June 2008

Back to Reality

So, Big Brother is back. Again. We're up to series 9, and every year there is a flurry of blog posts and articles from Christians (especially when there's a Christian in the house. Apparently there are two this year. I guess we'll see how that works out...). So most things have been said. But, following on from yesterday's post, it got me thinking about what Big Brother saya about our culture - and particularly the way it's changed over the years.

When BB first started, it was the start of the boom in reality TV. We hadn't really seen anything like it - a random bunch of people trapped together for a bit too long. The attraction then was the novelty of the situation, and just watching how people acted together.

That in itself is interesting. We like watching people, we like seeing what they'll do. We especially like to see them at their worst - when they argue, when they get drunk, when they're horrible to each other. Perhaps we feel pleased that we aren't like them. Or that they are like us. People like watching people.

But the novelty didn't stay novel for long. After a while, as we got used to BB and reality TV in general (even the stomach-churning channel 5 kind), the producers had to find ways to spice things up. Hidden rooms, inequality, shock evictions have all come and gone. And the selection of victims, sorry, housemates, has become more and more random, designed to provide the maximum drama.

This year, a couple were put into the house, but then the guy was told to pretend he was with someone else. Apparently, they're going to get "married" on Sunday. I'm sure that will cause all sorts of controversy in itself. But the point is that we often watch TV because we want new experiences. We want to be shocked, we want to be appalled. But shocking things don't stay shocking for long. And so the boundaries of morality and even acceptability get pushed further and further out.

I think that's one of the things I was trying to get at in my last post. TV is hugely influential in not only showing where culture is at, but in changing it. And I think it's powerful because it's so gradual, but constant.

Who knows what else Big Brother will pull out of the bag this year. But it will no doubt be crazier and more shocking than previous years. But by BB series 11 we'll think nothing of it.

Thursday, 5 June 2008


Here's something else I've been thinking about for a while (I realise I've been asking questions without really suggesting answers. I guess that's the way my brain tends to work). Over on Peter's blog he recommends some resources by Ted Turnau on using films in evangelism. I've only skimmed it, but it looks good, as does his website.

One phrase in particular stood out for me though: "Let’s face it: movies are this generation’s literature." And I guess I agree - a lot of people will sit down and watch a movie who wouldn't sit down and read the book. And movies can engage with big ideas and challenge people just like a good novel will. This can make them a great tool for explaining the gospel to people.

But I wonder how many people would naturally watch a film in that way. I was taught to do it by Andy Shudall when I was a Relay worker. Before then, I would just watch a film without really thinking. I guess they may have shaped my attitudes a bit without me realising it, but I'm dubious how much. And when I think of a lot of my friends and family, I'm not sure they'd be much different.

I think a much more powerful force in shaping culture and worldviews is TV. I think it's sort of seen as a poorer relation of the movies, but think about it. It's there in most people's homes all the time. It plays a huge role in shaping how we view the world (whether via news, documentaries or chat shows). It passes on moral values (which, as far as I can tell, seems to be the whole point of Loose Women). In particular, I think soaps are massively influential. Regular viewers get to know the characters. They may like them or loathe them, but they care about what happens. And I reckon values portrayed in shows like these will be absorbed much more easily than if they are surrounded by Hollywood razamattaz.

So how would this shape the way we communicate the gospel? Good question. I think I'll have to think about it a bit more...