Feb 4, 2013
neil

So here’s what I wrote to my MP today…

A letter e-mailed to my MP this morning

Dear Mr Burden

We are writing to you as our MP for Northfield to ask you to vote against the Marriage (same-sex couples) bill on its second reading tomorrow. Whilst we recognise that gay couples wish to be given opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other in a life-long partnership we do believe that this should continue to be provided under the current civil partnership provision.

The temptation in the media this has been to present this as a generational issue. As a couple in our early forties we still like to think of ourselves as a younger couple. One of us has even shared accommodation with a gay friend. It is not our age that has led us to our conclusion but a conviction that this legislation is not good for our nation or our city.

We have three main concerns:

1) We think this issue is a divisive one given the multi-cultural makeup of our city. One recent poll found that 67% of ethnic-minorities in the country are against same sex marriage. In a city like Birmingham we believe this is legislation that will further isolate the Muslim community in particular.

2) We believe that there are serious implications for liberty of conscience for individuals and faith-communities who cannot as a matter of religious conviction support same-sex marriage. Michael Gove has already conceded that the UK government may be powerless against the European Courts. One newspaper has reported on legal opinion that gives credibility to concern on the issue:

Human rights barrister Aidan O’Neill QC concluded schools could be within their rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings. He added that parents who object to it being taught would also have no right to withdraw their children from lessons.

Given that we do not know what unexpected consequences may follow from this legislation we ask that you do not give support to it.

3) We are also concerned that this bill did not feature in the manifesto of any political party and does not receive the support of the nation.

One YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, published on 11 March 2012, found that 32% opposed same-sex marriage whilst supporting civil partnerships and an additional 15% opposed both. So 47% opposed gay marriage with 43% supporting it and 10% saying they don’t know.

Further polling has also revealed a deeply divided nation. A ComRes poll with a sample of 2000 people conducted in January 2013 both found that 51% of respondents believed that marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.

In conclusion we think that this is a divisive bill which although benefiting the 6,000 people per year who enter civil partnerships will cause considerable concern to many millions who might well be affected by its results.

Thank you for your consideration and your continued hard work as our MP.

Yours sincerely

 

Neil & Jane Powell

Feb 1, 2013
neil

What Tim Keller said to Victoria Beckham

She has millions in the bank and a football hunk in her bed – but Victoria Beckham insists she still needs to prove herself every day. The singer and designer puts her success down to hard work and admitted her self-esteem often needed boosting. So began a piece in yesterday’s Metro newspaper reporting the edited highlights of an interview in this month’s Elle magazine with Posh. She says of herself;

When I was on-stage with the Spice Girls, I thought people were there to see the other four and not me. And when I go out with David and people take pictures I think, “They’re here to take David’s pictures.

On her move into the fashion industry she reveals how her fears about herself continue to fuel her ambitions.  It was never my intention to prove anybody wrong. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I don’t have to work, I need to work.

What’s more her insecurities find their own expression not just in the need to work but in the way she works. Admitting to being a ‘control freak’ she confesses You’ve got to trust people. Sometimes that’s difficult for me because I want to micro-manage absolutely everything. I can’t hand over. But I’m trying to do that more.

What Victoria Beckham recognises is that our fundamental insecurities about who we are and why we matter often find expression in our work. Whether that is the barely suppressed envy of colleagues or our need to control others or even the need to better them through overwork and unhealthy ambition, we are really struggling with our own identity and place in the world.

Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavour is a book in which he not only highlights these realities and their source but sets out just how the gospel is able to transform our work lives.  Through the gospel we no longer need to work for an identity (which will always leave us insecure) but from an identity, given to us in Jesus Christ.  Accepted by God, chosen and dearly loved, adopted as his children, our motives for work are transformed. Keller writes;

The truth will change your identity. It will convince you of your real, inestimable value. And ironically, when you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish. Suddenly all the other things in your work life – your influence, your resume,and the benefits they bring you – become just things. You can risk them, spend them, and even lose them. You are free.

Taking the example of Esther in the Bible who as a royal Queen became a person of greatness not by trying to make a name for herself; and you will become a person of greatness not by trying to make yourself into one, but by serving the One who said to his Father, “For your sake, thy will be done.

 

Jan 29, 2013
neil

‘Is it just me?’ No, Miranda it’s most of us

Arguably now the best-known woman on television,  40, unmarried, and never linked to a boyfriend. Why is Miranda Hart quite so much the ‘in’ thing? The Sun described her as the ‘undisputed Queen of Christmas TV’ after her hit comedy show Miranda won the Christmas rating (beating Eastenders along the way) when over 10 million people tuned in to watch the Christmas special. If you haven’t watched the show here’s a clip and if you want a summary one journalist describes it as  the sitcom about the unusually tall woman who runs a shop and falls over a lot.’

 

What do we see of ourselves in Miranda?

Can I suggest that we see something of ourselves in her own struggle to manage life and make it work.  When she asks in the title of her book ‘Is it just me?’ we all know the answer is ‘no’. We too set ourselves the sort of goals that we believe will make us happy and fulfilled; nice home, financially secure, married, children, successful career. And we see Miranda and her friends in later 30s and having none of the things that she is supposed to have by now. In her recent book, a sort of manual to life, she writes;

At thirty-eight, I finally feel my life is beginning and that I might be able to start doing things my way. To varying degrees, we all free awkward. Whether we hide it with arrogance, shyness, modesty;  whether we play the clown or the trendsetter, everyone struggles.

Transitioning to ‘adult’ life ie growing up is no easy thing!

For Miranda Hart our 20s are that stage in life where we have  ‘that feeling of being completely out of place and not really understanding the world’s rules yet. Fish out of water, still feels uncomfortable around men and in the workplace, and am I meant to be abiding by these rules? But doesn’t really want to conform, I suppose.’

And that seems to have been something of her real-life experience. On graduating, although friends got jobs, she went back home to her parents, where she became depressed, gained a lot of weight whilst on antidepressants and rarely left her own bedroom.  Looking back on that time she says (£)

my agoraphobia was just panic, thinking I can’t be bothered to deal with the world, it wasn’t really a psychological condition. It was just thinking, help, I don’t know what to do with my life, and I’m not ready to be an adult in the world. I missed the structure of school and university, and I just had a slight kind of freak out.

The Peter-Pan syndrome

The term Peter-Pan syndrome, first coined in the 1980s, is widely used to describe the phenomenon of growing numbers of adults who can’t or won’t grow up and seem unable to embrace adulthood. A recent study found that we now think of ourselves as grown us at around the age not of 18 but 28.

Refusing  to ‘grow up’ is a key component to what makes Miranda the TV comedy the success that it is. Michael Deacon in the Telegraph writes;

Miranda invitingly beckons you back to childhood. It’s cosy and cuddly and comforting. It contains scarcely any jokes that an eight-year-old child wouldn’t get. Its central character – played by Miranda Hart – trips over things, rips her trousers, breaks wind at inopportune moments, pulls faces, puts on funny voices. She’s meant to be in her thirties, yet she’s constantly being scolded by her mother as if she were 12.

To be fair, her mother has a point. In many respects our heroine effectively is 12. She can’t handle the smallest responsibility. She’s clueless about work. She hasn’t the first idea about boys. And she’s hopelessly clumsy, as children on the verge of adolescence so often are.

So in Miranda we recognise our own struggle to make life work. Life has never been more complicated. We have so much and so much is expected of us and the option to retreat is so very tempting. Who doesn’t want to embrace immaturity, retreat from responsibility and escape into small comforts and pleasure. Deacon again, If Miranda has a message, this is it: it’s OK to be a bit useless, as long as you’re nice.

In a future post I’ll offer some response to the Miranda phenomena and how as Christians we can help one another transition safely into adulthood without resorting to playing ‘Biscuit Blizzard’ and vegetable friends.

Jan 24, 2013
neil

Whose fault is it anyway? JC Ryle and God’s offer of salvation

JC Ryle  asks ‘Who is responsible when people refuse God’s offer in the gospel?’

There is nothing wanting on God’s part for the salvation of sinners’ souls: no one will ever be able to say at last that it was God’s fault, if he is not saved. The Father is ready to love and receive; the Son is ready to pardon and cleanse guilt away; the Spirit is ready to sanctify and renew; angels are ready to rejoice over the returning sinner; grace is ready to assist him; the Bible is ready to instruct him; heaven is ready to be his everlasting home. One thing only is needful, and that is – the sinner must be ready and willing himself. Let this also never be forgotten: let us not quibble and split hairs upon this point. God will be found clear of the blood of all lost souls.

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew – The Wedding Banquet, Matthew 22:1-14

Jan 22, 2013
neil

Jesus isn’t superman

My son asked me a really good question after a great sermon on Sunday evening. The preacher pointed out that there are things God cannot do; he cannot lie for example and he cannot be tempted either.

How then was Jesus tempted by Satan in the wilderness? Rufus asked. Was that temptation real? The writer to the Hebrews thinks that it was when he writes that Jesus was tempted like us in every way and yet was without sin. So what is the answer?

The answer is that Jesus isn’t superman. Or more precisely Jesus isn’t Clark Kent. We all know how the story goes – in the superman films people think they’re face to face with an ordinary human-being yet we know that behind the persona Superman’s real identity is simply disguised.

It was Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) who taught that the best way to think about Jesus is that he was God carried around in a human body and that tends to be the way most of us still think of Jesus today. But the church rejected Apollinaris’s error and recognised that the Bible affirms that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be for ever.

Because Jesus was fully man he had not just a human body but a human mind and human emotions because Jesus was fully God ‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ Colossians 1:19. One person with two natures and those two natures inseparable yet distinct.

So Grudem concludes in his Systematic Theology the eternal Son of God took to himself a truly human nature, and Christ’s divine and human natures remain distinct and retain their own properties, yet they are eternally and inseparably united together in one person.

Jesus was no less human than you or I

Now that is really good news when it comes to the Christian life – not least when it comes to temptation. For there is a man (more than a man, but not less) who was tempted like me in every way and the promise given us is clear.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:16.

And before we refuse to go to Jesus with our temptations because we think to ourselves but Jesus never sinned and therefore doesn’t really know temptation as I do a word of advice from CS Lewis.

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.

Jan 15, 2013
neil

Some doors need to be kept locked – Steve Chalke, sexuality and preaching the negatives

A friend of mine was enjoying a pint in the pub when a guy he didn’t know offered him a job. The job was working on a building site for a multi-storey office block. My friend had never done anything like it but was up for a challenge so he turned up, found a hard hat and walked on-site. Within a few hours he was operating a pneumatic drill breaking up a concrete floor that needed to be re-laid. Within a few minutes of starting he was falling through the floor onto another concrete floor below. He missed scaffolding pipes by a few inches that would have broken his back. He could have died, he ‘should’ have died and if he had, others would have been guilty of his death.

You might say he should have had the sense to have not been there in the first place, but nevertheless someone should have been protecting him. He was put in a dangerous place that he had no right to be in — unprepared for the dangers that awaited him, he nearly lost his life.

I tell the tale because I have recently been reminded that I have a job that involves protecting people from entering dangerous places. The pastor-shepherd protects the flock and the way we protect, at least in part, is by saying ‘don’t go there’ when we see or sense danger.

That charge to protect is a call to ‘preach the negatives’. Our preaching needs to challenge wrong living but it also needs to warn of dangerous theology. In a talk I heard last week I was reminded that false teaching doesn’t even necessarily have to affirm that which is false. False teachers often start by promoting dangerous ideas in an altogether more subtle and invasive way. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a case in point. When you turn deadly ideas into open questions, you invite God’s people to enter dangerous places.

Hugh Palmer, Rector at All Souls Church, London (the home of John Stott’s ministry for over 50 years) warned in a recent talk that Bell’s book ‘opens the door to tragic places and never closes them’. You don’t have to walk through the door yourself to be a false teacher, you merely have to open one after another and invite others to explore for themselves where they would like to go.

Our ministry has to have some negatives. We protect the flock by preaching the truth but also by locking and double-locking the doors of dangerous and deadly ideas and then we stand in the way of anyone reaching for the handle.

Paul writes in Acts 20 in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders;

Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!

The preacher must know the truth, preach the truth and warn against those ideas that oppose the truth.

It’s desperately sad to see Steve Chalke walk away from evangelical truth in his recent statements in support of practising homosexuality, arguing that it is consistent with Biblical Christianity. But what is also culpable is the decision of those at Christianity magazine to promote his ideas in the most public way by letting him open doors in people’s minds, many of whom are vulnerable to dangerous ideas. True, the magazine also presents the biblical evangelical position alongside Chalke’s ideas but in effect, that is to leave two doors open and invite people to decide for themselves.

The defence the editor of the magazine makes is, first, that Steve Chalke has written for the magazine for a number of years
(so it’s the least they could do to give his ideas such a prominent place in this month’s edition?) and secondly

opening up the issues is what this magazine does. We’re evangelical in conviction, but our approach has never been to suppress what others think, whether within or outside of evangelicalism.

I hope you notice the emotive choice of words. If it is an act of ‘suppression’ to silence false teaching then the same charge applies to Jesus and the apostles who spend considerable time not only refusing to promote dangerous ideas but actively speaking out against them.

Christianity magazine has decided to leave open the door that Chalke has walked through, and their rationale is that they have opened another door in an alternative and more traditional point of view presented by Greg Downes. What this all amounts to is opening two doors and inviting people to decide for themselves which they will walk through. One door leads to life and the other, death. One must be closed and locked, but that will only happen if you are prepared to preach the negatives.

Jan 11, 2013
neil

Whatever your view on gay marriage Tory plans are unworkable says senior Tory

Jan 9, 2013
neil

Is there a way back from sexual sin?

In a powerful and moving post Julia Huisman (Director of Communications at Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana) and Tammy Johnston (Director of Women’s Ministries at Bethel Church) offer their testimony as a comfort and hope for all those dealing with past sexual sin and the guilt that lives on.

 

Jan 8, 2013
neil

G.K. Chesterton on why heaven can never be dull

Who would want to go on living for ever? Only He who has never grown old:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy

Jan 5, 2013
neil

The darker side to being driven

Jon Tyson is lead pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York City. I found a sermon he preached in December from Matthew 1:21-23 really enlightening, not to say a little disturbing. Tyson (about 19 minutes into the sermon) highlights a hidden danger inherent in the hearts of men and women driven by a noble desire – living for God.

What could be wrong with such a fine ambition? Essentially, Tyson points out, the danger comes from failing to recognise that our lives were never intended to be lived for God but with God. When our passion is not Christ but doing stuff for Christ we become vulnerable to that most subtle danger of ‘importing worldly ambition into Christian ministry’.

Tyson draws on a blog post written by Skye Jethani entitled Has mission become our idol to expand his point. Jethani writes

Sometimes the people who fear insignificance the most are driven to accomplish the greatest things. As a result they are highly praised for their good works which temporarily soothes their fear until the next goal can be achieved.

How easy it is for Christian ministers to believe that the worth of our life is determined by the achievements of our ministries. Jethani quotes Gordon McDonald who says of this condition (which he defines as missionalism);

Missionalism starts slowly and gains a foothold in the leader’s attitude before long the mission controls almost everything; time, relationships, health, spiritual depth, ethics and convictions.

How many Christian ministers are actually pursuing a worldly ambition –driven by a desire to prove themselves through their ministry – rather than joyfully living out their lives and fulfilling their ministries with Christ?

What might be tell-tales signs that your ministry has morphed into a self-serving idol?

Here are 5 symptoms I recognise in myself;

1) An aggressive self-promotion of our own ministries. Every conversation, blog-post or tweet is an opportunity to talk about ourselves through the vehicle of pushing of a ministry rather than an opportunity to bless others with the gospel.

2) A lack of interest (let alone joy) in the ministry of others. If my sense of self-worth is located in my ministry then the success of others disturbs and threatens me. They become a threat to my security and rob me of my joy.

3) When our ministry is an idol, and its success becomes our consuming goal, relationships suffer. When our focus is our ministry our relationships begin to be defined by the extent to which they can be useful to us in fulfilling our objectives. Family life suffers because they don’t advance our cause and instead slow us down by demanding time and energy we want to invest elsewhere.  In essence the idol is seen to be at work when I am only interested in others to the extent to which they can assist in the completion of my projects and plans.

4) When we are defined by our ministry we find it next to impossible to rest from our work. The idol of worldly ambition enslaves us and we fear falling behind.

5) When ministerial success is essential to our identity what keeps us awake at night is not the fate of the lost, or the glory of God but a fear of personal failure.

 

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