Jun 22, 2011
neil

The must see film of the year? ‘The Tree of life’ starring Brad Pitt

A short clip from the film Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Looks a really interesting film.

The Guardian gave it 5 stars after reviewing it at Cannes film festival describing it as ‘visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale: cinema that’s thinking big‘. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is due for release in the UK on 8th July.

 

Jun 21, 2011
neil

Sharing the gospel with your non-Christian family – 8 thoughts on what makes it so tough

Randy Newman waited a long time to see his 75 year old mother come to faith in Christ.  That’s what makes him the ideal author of Bringing the gospel home – sharing your faith with family and friends. From his personal experience he writes;

I’ve seen the value of patience, the significance of prayer, the marvel of grace, and the power of love.

Most Christians find sharing their faith a challenge at the best of times but sharing faith with family as Newman testifies ‘seems infinitely more daunting.’

The book is a great resource to help all of those who like myself have the responsibility and challenge of being Christians in a family who are mostly not Christians. The book isn’t about technique or methodology but about how the gospel meets the unique challenges of witness to family. So Newman begins the book saying;

How we think about our family while telling them the good news is almost as important as how we think about our message.

So here are 8 take homes from his first chapter to help us think a little more about a tough topic.

1. Family is at the heart of God’s purposes.

It is designed to be a special place with unqiue ‘family dynamics’. We should have a special concern for family. When it works well it is a real blessing.

Families were instituted by God to foster intimacy, to build trust, to be the springboard from which all relationships should work.

2. Families are often where we feel the effects of the fall most acutely.

The closer the relationship the greater the pain when sin spoils or even fractures relationships that are designed to run deep. Nowhere is the consequence of  sin greater or more disturbing than in the home.  When we have been hurt by members of our family through arguments, divorce, abuse and so on it has profound effects.

3.When family works well it makes witnessing hard.

If our family is a truly happy one then who wants to be the person to break it apart? When we come to faith it adds a new dynamic. There is a new person in our lives, we now have a relationship with Christ, not shared by our family.

Witnessing is understandably hard if we love our parents. We are desperate not to upset them or disappoint them. When a particularly close relationship with a sibling is suddenly altered by our new relationship with Christ it threatens to drive a wedge between you. No wonder if our first attempts to witness are not met with an enthusiastic reception, out of love for our family, we begin to want to hold back.

4. When family goes wrong it makes witnessing hard.

If we have been hurt or betrayed by our family, because the pain runs so deep, we might well run from family. Maybe we cut off connections with certain family members or choose to spend less time at home or simply emotionally disconnect. To protect ourselves from the pain we seek independence from our family.

How helpful to be reminded that Jesus was rejected by his own family only to see them come to faith later. Most notably, James, his own half-brother who would become a key leader of the church in Jerusalem.

5. For those blessed by a loving family the gospel teaches us that family is not ultimate

In becoming Christian we find new reasons to thank God as we see for the first time that a loving family comes from his hand in order to bless but we also learn that we have to stop idolizing family relationships as we serve God.

Jesus said in Mark 3 ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’

Jesus’ placing of family underneath kingdom relationships serves as both a rebuke and an encouragement.

6. For those saddened by broken family relationships the gospel teaches us that family is redeemable

The Bible also teaches us to not give up on even the worst of families.

Remembering how Christ in the gospel refused to give up on me and continuing to rely on the love of God that first changed me is crucial to empowering .

7. Evangelising family will feel like hard work

Newman wants us to recognise that witnessing to our family is going to be hard and it’s probably best to acknowledge that up front.

When you know the difficulty of running a marathon, you train for it, eat the right foods, get proper rest, etc. If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll probably drop out of the race early on.

8. Evangelising family is emotionally charged

Two emotional struggles need to be highlighted – guilt and anger. Both seem to attack from within and without.

It might be guilt that we have not done more to seek the salvation of family members. We’ve not particularly prayed or we’ve stop trying to speak to them about Christ.

It could be guilt that comes from within because we are conscious about the past.

Our family, in other words has seen us at our worst, and the guilt we feel for losing our temper or any other display of sin immobilizes us in our witness.

It could be guilt from without as family members demonstrate their disappointment & disapproval that we have become a Christian or even a threat to disown us. Parents who have sought to control and manipulate their children are unlikely to stop when we reach adulthood.

Anger often rises in the frustration that comes from not being understood as a Christian or when the gospel is not understood no matter how clearly we have explained it.

Several people I spoke to expressed frustration from lack of objectivity. This seems to be in short supply when we’re around our family.

Maybe, Newman argues, objectivity is not only an unrealistic goal but an undesirable one too. Love rather than dispassionate  objectivity is a better goal. It is when love is our motivator that

we can let go of the anger, disengage the guilt, and share the gospel so that it truly sounds like gracious, attractive good news instead of haughty, condemning bad news.

 

Jun 20, 2011
neil

Stay creative!

With thanks to Nathan

Jun 19, 2011
neil

Band of brothers – the seven men who keep watch over my life and ministry

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:16

Three times a year (now for seven years) I spend 24 hours with seven other gospel ministers from around the UK.  We meet to pray, chat, laugh, share our fears, concerns and hopes. One of us also volunteers to lead a discussion on a book or topic that we agree at the previous meeting and for which we have read in advance.

A lot has happened in seven years. We have each changed, our families have changed, our ministries have changed. To date I’m the only one of us who has not changed job or moved city at least once. I realise that it is a great blessing in ministry to have such an opportunity to meet with a band of brothers who play a crucial part in watching over my life and doctrine. In ministry terms it is a life-saver.

 

What does it look like when we meet?

Day 1

11 am – Coffee

11.30-1.30pm – In turn we each share about life and ministry including our own walk with the Lord, marriages, spiritual development of our children, church ministry and anything else of importance.

1.30-2.30 – Over lunch we talk through issues of theology, seek pastoral advice or wisdom on situations we’re addressing, discuss the wider church scene.

2.30-4.30 – Off on a good walk in which we chat, often in pairs, asking questions and picking up comments shared in our morning session

4.30-5.30 – Tea and conversation

5.30-7.00 – Session 1 on the book or topic.

7.30-10.00 – Meal out. More relaxed time and conversation

 

Day 2

8.00-9.00 Breakfast (during which time we often skype the member of our group currently ministering in Australia)

9.30-11.00 – Session 2 on the book or topic

 

What is the value of meeting with the same small group of friends and fellow ministers on an on-going basis

As Tim Keller in his book, Reason for God, writes ‘It takes a community to know an individual.’

Keller takes up the observation that CS Lewis makes in his book the Four Loves;

No one human being can bring out all of another person, but it takes a whole circle of human beings to  extract the real you.’

CS Lewis met with the same group of men for many years during his time at Oxford. Writing of the impact of meeting as a group of friends he said;

By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.”

So in our little fraternal when we meet together we bring out different aspects of our characters, spot different strengths and weaknesses in each other and each in our own way encourage the others.

Thank you my brothers.

 

Jun 17, 2011
neil

The one argument atheists can’t answer

When the apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians who found themsevles increasingly on the margins of society, mocked and even insulted here was his advice;

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

In our increasingly secular society how do we respond to the growing numbers of people who are not just sceptical about Christianity but are downright hostile? How do we answer militant atheists who think no good thing comes from believing in God and that the only good religion is a dead one?

Well we should answer their arguments and there are good books worth reading and giving away on why Dawkins and Hitchens et al. are wrong.  But maybe we have one knock-down apologetic argument that atheism cannot answer – the power of a transformed life.

The great defender of the Christian faith, Francis Schaeffer, said ‘the greatest apologetic is love’.

The one thing that atheism cannot explain or understand or rubbish is the extraordinary power of a transformed life.

So when the Guardian this week ran a story on the remarkable work of a church who decided to pour out their lives in sacrificial service of drug-addicts and prostitutes it was a great reminder that maybe Peter was right. When the pastor of a bible-teaching, Jesus-preaching church also says ‘”The real issues are how we should express and find love for the outcasts and the downtrodden” the world even as it accuses Christians of doing wrong still sees our good deeds and acknowledges something remarkable is going on.

John Harris author of the Guardian piece writes;

A question soon pops into my head. How does a militant secularist weigh up the choice between a cleaned-up believer and an ungodly crack addict? Back at my hotel I search the atheistic postings on the original Comment is free thread for even the hint of an answer, but I can’t find one anywhere.

The last Roman Emperor who viciously persecuted the church was Julian. He hated Christians with a vengence but even he conceded;

[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.

 

 

Jun 16, 2011
neil

35 ways to help the preacher improve his preaching

It’s not an easy thing to give or receive (!) feedback on a talk or a sermon but if we want to see gifted preachers improve their preaching it’s a useful thing to know how to feedback well.
So here are some thoughts on what to look for in a talk if you’re being asked or expected to give feedback.
You’re probably only going to pick up on one or two questions from each section in feeding back on any one talk but here are 35 questions to help!

Essentially in evaluating a talk we’re looking at three things;

1. Matter: What was said?

2. Method: How was the content communicated?

3. Manner: Was it said well?

Matter: What was said?  Issues of exegesis and hermeneutics

-          What was the main thing or big idea that the speaker was trying to get across? (then ask the speaker what was the main thing they were trying to get across) Did they match?

-          Was the main point of the talk the main point of the passage?

-          Was the main point of the talk what they said it would be? (i.e. did it match their theme/aim sentence)

-          Was the sermon in some sense about God? Is God the hero of the text expounded? Would the passage lead the hearer to think great thoughts about God?

-          Did they so obviously skip anything that you think they were ducking the issue?

-          Did anything need to be put in biblical context? How well did they do it?

-   If it was an Old Testament passage did we get to Jesus as its fulfilment? Did we get to see how the OT pointed us to him in a faithful way?

-          Were there additional theological points made in the talk that were NOT from the passage, or a necessary consequence of the passage? Were they justified?

-          If cross-references were used were they necessary, were they helpful?

-          Was there anything in the talk about the passage that you couldn’t understand?

-          Did the speaker, in your judgement, misunderstand anything in the passage?

-          Did they anticipate possible objections or difficulties with what the passage taught? Did they deal with those objections fairly, sympathetically and clearly?

Application

-          Did the applications follow from the main point and the text?

-    Was there enough application?

-    Was it too vague? Too narrow?

-          Was it applied to ourselves? (and not simply to people out-there!)

-          Did the talk misapply the passage?

-          Was application (principle) accompanied by ‘Action’ (practical examples)?

-          Did the talk address our own reluctance to apply the Bible to ourselves, how did it urge us to apply?

-          Were the motivations for application the motivations of the passage?

Method: How was the content communicated

Structure:

-          Was it clear from the talk what the points/headings were?

-          Were the main points straightforward and reasonably memorable or verbose and instantly forgettable?

-          Did they show where in the text the points came from?

-          Was there an obvious flow through the talk so that it was clear how the points related?

-          Was there a good balance of explanation-illustration-application or did it feel too ‘light’ or ‘heavy’

Illustration:

-          Did the illustrations actually illustrate the points being made? Extra marks for capturing the texture as well?

-          Did the illustrations ‘drown out’ the talk?’ i.e. were they ‘too good’ and therefore distracting?

Introduction:

-          Did the introduction serve the purpose of the talk?

- Was it too long, too short?

Did the introduction make you want to listen to the rest of the talk?

 

Conclusion:

-          Was there a conclusion?  Did you know when the talk was ending?

-          Did the conclusion function as a conclusion i.e. recapping or was new material introduced in the conclusion? (should not do this!)

 

General Points:

-    Was there any unnecessary jargon or unexplained terms?

-     Did the talk work well for its particular audience? (e.g. Christian/non-Christian or youth group, kids talk, etc.)

-          Was there any particularly helpful use of rhetorical devices:

  • Posing questions to the listeners
  • Humour
  • Testimony from own life or example of others
  • Coming full-circle (finishing a talk where it started)
  • Repetition of words, main points, etc.

 

Jun 15, 2011
neil

Is congregationalism really from Satan?

Perhaps James McDonald’s blog was not getting enough hits when he suggested that congregationalism (although not congregationalists!) was a tool in the hand of Satan.

Jonathan Leeman of 9marks ministry has responded in a helpful post.


Jun 13, 2011
neil

‘Listen to your heart’ sang Roxette but Isaac Watts is not so sure

‘Listen to your heart’ sang Roxette but according to Isaac Watts that’s not altogether the best advice – even if your heart is on fire for God!

I’m just finished reading Isaac Watt’s Discourses of the love of God and it’s influence on all the passions.

The big idea is this; Christians cannot afford to neglect God-given ‘passions’ or ‘affections’ when it comes to our  worship of him. In fact God has made us in such a way that the Christian life is only really possible when we seek to love him with both heart and heart.

Watts notes that love is the most powerful passion or affection that we possess as human beings and a love for God ‘will influence all the other affections of the heart.’ A true and right worship of God must not only have at its centre a profound conviction of the truthfulness of the gospel but a deep love for God.

It is a knowledge and belief of the truth of the gospel, joined with love to Christ my redeemer, that makes me zealous to fulfil every duty.

But midway through the work Watts turns to address the abuse of the passions. And it is here that I stumbled across a new thought to me. Our affections, even our godly affections, can lead us away from truth about God. Watt’s comments;

Even the best affections, and those that seem to have a strong tendency towards piety, are not always safe guides in this respect; yet they are too often indulged to sway the mind in its search after truth or duty

And the first example he gives of this could have been written yesterday

Suppose a person should be exceedingly affected with the unlimited goodness and abounding grace of God; if, by this pious affection towards God and his goodness, he is persuaded to think that God has no such severe vengeance for sinful and rebel-creatures, and that he will not destroy multitudes of mankind in hell as the scripture asserts, or that their punishment shall not be so long and so terrible as God has expressly declared; here the passion of love and esteem for the divine goodness acts in an irregular manner, for it takes off the eyes of the soul from his awful holiness and his strict justice, and the unknown evil that is in sin. It prevents the mind from giving due attention to God’s express word, and to those perfections of the divine nature, and his wise and righteous government, which may demand such dreadful and eternal punishment, for the rebellion of a creature against the infinite dignity of it’s creator and governor.

A sense of the profound love of God can, Watt’s argues, cloud our judgement and skew our view of God. It prevents the mind from giving due attention to God’s express word he writes.

When our judgements are built on our passions we are in danger of getting God wrong.

The passions were made to be servants to reason, to be governed by the judgment, and to be influenced by truth; but they were never given us to decide controversies, and to determine what is truth, and what is error.

 

Jun 12, 2011
neil

Matt predicts a riot

Matt raises a smile after the Archbishop’s remarks this week in the New Statesman

Thanks to Eddie Arthur for the link

Jun 11, 2011
neil

Bringing your people aboard and dealing with the pirates

This e-book is well worth a look when it comes to matters of vision, values & strategy in a church. Not just in shaping your vision as a church but in ensuring ownership of that vision.

Will Mancini comments

There are 4 kinds of people in your church when it comes to vision.

Passengers to nurture and challenge

Crew members to equip and empower

Stowaways to find and convert

Pirates to confront and eliminate

 

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